House GOP Calls for DeLay Replacement
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent
Embattled Rep. Tom DeLay's hopes of reclaiming his position as House majority leader suffered a potentially fatal setback on Friday as a growing number of fellow Republicans called for new leadership in the midst of a congressional corruption scandal.
"It's clear that we need to elect a new majority leader to restore the trust and confidence of the American people," said Rep. Jim Ramstad (news, bio, voting record) of Minnesota, as two fellow Republicans circulated a petition calling for new elections.
Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., whose own hold on power appears secure, signaled he would not stand in the way of elections that could produce changes in several leadership posts.
"This is consistent with the speaker's announcement ... that House Republicans would revisit this matter at the beginning of this year," said his spokesman, Ron Bonjean, referring to the petition drive.
DeLay gave no indication he was ready to renounce his hopes of returning to the post he held before his indictment last year on campaign finance charges in his home state of Texas.
But with Hastert planning an overseas trip beginning early next week, it appeared an announcement on new elections could come within a few days.
The developments occurred near the end of a week in which lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the central figure in a growing public corruption investigation and a man with close ties to Republicans, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and several other charges in two federal courtrooms. At the same time, an Associated Press/Ipsos poll showed that 49 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer to see Democrats in control of Congress and 36 percent said Republicans.
Apart from leadership changes, several GOP officials said leaders were hoping to announce plans next week for ethics-related legislation.
Rep. Roy Blunt (news, bio, voting record) of Missouri, who took over as majority leader temporarily when DeLay stepped aside following his indictment on state charges, is certain to run for the post if new elections are held. Rep. John Boehner (news, bio, voting record) of Ohio, a former member of the leadership, is his likeliest rival, and there may be other contenders as well.
DeLay, whose defiant, take-no-prisoners style has won him the admiration and respect of fellow Republicans, has insisted he is innocent of wrongdoing and has said he intends to reclaim his leadership post once he is cleared.
Hastert and other Republicans accepted that arrangement temporarily last year, and DeLay maneuvered to win the dismissal of charges or gain an acquittal by early February.
But Abramoff's guilty pleas appears to have changed the political environment for Republicans 11 months before the midterm elections.
"The situation is that Tom's legal situation doesn't seem to be reaching clarity," Rep. John Kline (news, bio, voting record) of Minnesota said in an interview. "There are stories of more indictments or questions associated with Jack Abramoff. And I think that Tom DeLay is going to have to concentrate on that."
DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the congressman "appreciates that a majority of his colleagues recognizes that he remains committed to fulfilling his responsibilities as majority leader and that he'll be quickly exonerated in Texas."
"And he appreciates that a majority of his colleagues won't give in to what is essentially character assassination by insinuation," Madden said.
Republican rules permit an election to fill the vacancy, and aides to Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Charles Bass of New Hampshire said the two men were circulating a petition that would allow the rank-and-file to pick new leadership quickly.
The developments with Abramoff have "brought home the fact that we need not just new leaders but a course correction," Flake said.
While Flake is a conservative in a safe congressional district, others calling for a change were more moderate Republicans who could face difficult re-election campaigns this fall.
"I do not want Tom Delay to return," said Rep. Heather Wilson (news, bio, voting record) of New Mexico, who has faced tough challengers in several recent elections.
"Three of his former senior staff members have admitted or have been implicated in corrupt and illegal activities to get money for themselves by influencing legislation," she said. "Whether or not Mr. Delay was involved himself or knew this was going on, he is responsible for his office. I cannot tolerate this."
Rep. Jim Gerlach (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., said through a spokesman that he, too, will sign the petition.
"He believes the conference needs bold leaders whose integrity is above reproach and who will lead us on much needed ethics reform and other reforms necessary to move the nation forward," said the spokesman, John Gentzel.
Abramoff frequently had stressed his ties to DeLay in the course of seeking business from prospective lobbying clients, and had hired a number of former DeLay aides as employees. One of them, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty last November as part of the same investigation that led to Abramoff's confession of guilt this week.
According to papers filed in court, Abramoff paid the wife of another DeLay aide $50,000 over several months as part of an effort to kill legislation opposed by his lobbying clients.
Under GOP rules the signatures of 50 lawmakers on a petition would be sufficient to call a special meeting. Once convened, a majority vote would be required to hold elections.
Alternatively, DeLay could decide on his own to renounce his claim on the leadership post he left last year, or Hastert could intervene more forcefully, making any petition a mere formality.
Associated Press writers Fred Frommer, Sam Hananel, Andrew Miga and Kimberly Hefling contributed to this report.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Dueling Alito Ads
A liberal ad suggests Alito can't be trusted. A conservative ad says he's admired. We supply context.
A liberal group's ad says Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito didn't keep his word when he took part in cases he had promised to avoid while a conservative ad quotes a "respected" journalist calling Alito "widely admired" and "fair-minded."
Both ads are accurate as far as they go, but there's more to it than either of these 30-second spots can tell. We supply details.
The liberal coalition IndependentCourt.org released a 30-second ad on Jan. 4 questioning whether Alito can be trusted to keep his word, saying he broke a 1990 promise to step aside from cases that might pose a conflict of interest. IndependentCourt.org is a project of the Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary, whose members include People for the American Way, the American Civil Liberties Union, the AFL-CIO, Moveon PAC, NARAL Pro-Choice America and others. Their 30-second ad, "Keep," is set to air on national cable news and locally in Maine and Arkansas.
IndependentCourt.org’s Ad “Keep"
Announcer: Americans believe if you give your word, you ought to keep it. And that’s what’s disturbing about George Bush’s Supreme Court pick, Samuel Alito.
Alito promised to disqualify himself from certain cases.
(On Screen 1990 Senate Questionnaire)
But news reports reveal he “broke his own commitment”
(On Screen: Houston Chronicle 11/8/05)
(On Screen: Boston Globe, 12/6/05)
Even ruling in favor of a company he invested with…
(On Screen: Washington Post, 11/1/04)
Then gave three different excuses why.
(On Screen Washington Post, 12/2/05)
His actions were called “troubling”
(On Screen Philadelphia Inquirer 11/5/05)
And “poor judgment.”
(On Screen Houston Chronicle 11/8/05)
Shouldn’t we be able to trust Supreme Court nominees to keep their word?
(On Screen: Paid for by IndependentCourt.org)
A Broken Promise?
The ad begins with images of ordinary Americans. An announcer saying that "Americans believe if you give your word, you ought to keep it."
The ad refers to Alito's failure to disqualify himself from certain cases in spite of a promise he made in 1990, when the Senate was considering his nomination to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Alito promised the Judiciary Committee in a written questionnaire:
Alito: I do not believe that conflicts of interest relating to my financial interests are likely to arise. I would, however, disqualify myself from any cases involving the Vanguard companies, the brokerage firm of Smith Barney , or the First Federal Savings and Loan of Rochester, New York.
I would disqualify myself from any case involving my sister's law firm, Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey, of Newark, New Jersey.
The ad states that Alito "broke his own commitment . . . three times." It quotes newspaper accounts that called Alito's actions "troubling," saying he showed "poor judgment." It concludes: "Shouldn’t we be able to trust Supreme Court nominees to keep their word?"
In fact, Alito did participate in cases involving Vanguard and Smith Barney. He may also have participated in a third case involving his sister's law firm, though there is no record of him voting in the case, and Alito says he has no memory of it.
Generally, Alito says his promise to the Senate covered only his "initial" service on the court, and these cases came years later. He also says none of them posed any financial conflict for him or required his recusal under judicial ethics rules. "To the best of my knowledge I have not ruled on a case for which I had a legal or ethical obligation to recuse myself during my 15 years on the federal bench," he said in a letter to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Here are details of the three cases:
Vanguard: In Monga v. Ottenberg, Alito was part of a unanimous three-judge panel that in 2001 ruled in favor of Vanguard, dismissing a suit by a Massachusetts woman who wanted the assets of the retirement funds of her late husband Dev Monga. Lower courts had ruled the funds must go to pay creditors of Monga's bankrupt company. Monga's widow moved to have the case heard anew, with Alito disqualified. Alito – in a 2005 statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee – says "I took the extra and unnecessary step of requesting that a new panel of judges be appointed to rehear the case." The second panel also ruled in favor of Vanguard, again unanimously. Alito notes that the several hundred thousand dollars he then owned in Vanguard mutual funds were not an issue in the case, and says they didn't pose any conflict for him.
Smith Barney: Alito also sat on a panel in 1997 that decided Johnston v. Smith Barney . Alito has said the case posed no conflict. "I hold no interest in the firm itself," he said in a November 2005 letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter.
Sister's law firm: Alito may have participated i n a 1995 case in which the Third Circuit ruled in favor of a bank represented by McCarter & English, which then employed Alito's sister Rosemary. Alito is listed as one of 14 judges "present" when the court denied a borrower's petition for a rehearing. Only one judge – not Alito – voted in favor of a rehearing. There is no record of Alito voting, since only votes in favor of a rehearing are recorded in such cases. Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman is quoted in the Nov.10 Boston Globe as saying that Alito "does not have any recollection of that case." Alito's sister says she was "absolutely not" personally involved in the case, according to the Globe.
Democrats are criticizing Alito for hearing cases he said he would not. The ranking Democratic Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, "He made it very clear he would not hear any cases with those people. [This] is something that obviously is going to be an issue at the hearing."
A "Drip" of Attacks
The Progress for America Voter Fund on Jan. 3 released "Drip" and said the ad would run for nine days, at a cost of $500,000, on CNN, Fox News Channel, and local cable stations in North Dakota, Maine, and Louisiana.
Progress for Ad "Drip"
(On Screen: Image of a dripping faucet)
Announcer: Everyday desperate liberals make up a steady drip of attacks against Judge Samuel Alito.
Want the truth?
Respected Supreme Court analyst Stuart Taylor, of the non-partisan National Journal, Alito "is widely admired by liberals, moderates, and conservatives, who know him well as fair-minded, committed to apolitical judging, and wedded to no ideological agenda other than restraint in the exercise of judicial power."
Confirm Judge Alito.
(On Screen: PFAvoterfund.com
Paid for by Progress for America Voter Fund)
An Accurate Quote
The ad opens with an image of a dripping faucet as an announcer says that "everyday, desperate liberals make up a steady drip of attacks against Judge Samuel Alito. Want the truth?" It then quotes a Dec. 10 article by Stuart Taylor, a writer for the National Journal. The quotation used by the PFA ad is accurate and in context. Taylor's article flayed general news accounts of the Alito fight for adopting the line of what he called "liberal ideologues." Here is the quote in broader context:
Taylor: The systematic slanting -- conscious or unconscious -- of this and many other news reports has helped fuel a disingenuous campaign by liberal groups and senators to caricature Alito as a conservative ideologue. In fact, this is a judge who – while surely too conservative for the taste of liberal ideologues – is widely admired by liberals, moderates, and conservatives who know him well as fair-minded, committed to apolitical judging, and wedded to no ideological agenda other than restraint in the exercise of judicial power.
"Respected" and "non-partisan?"
The ad describes Taylor as a "respected" Supreme Court analyst, and his publication as "non-partisan." But liberals groups now question that. The Alliance for Justice published a rebuttal arguing that Taylor is not as non-partisan as the ad leads viewers to believe, pointing out that in April 1998 Taylor was courted by independent counsel Ken Starr to be a senior advisor on the Whitewater investigation. Taylor turned down the position but drafted an article praising Starr without revealing to his editors that Starr had offered him a job. The National Journal , after learning of the offer, did not run the story and Taylor later apologized.
Nevertheless, Taylor's articles have at times been harshly critical of the Bush administration. He called Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers "foolish" and "self-indulgent," and also said Bush and Vice-President Cheney need "adult supervision" concerning their approach to U.S. torture policy. And in the very article quoted by the ad, Taylor concludes by slamming Bush's intelligence and morals:
Taylor: Meanwhile, lest this column be dismissed as pro-Bush propaganda, I hereby associate myself with a comment by Walter Murphy, the distinguished constitutional scholar who was Alito's thesis adviser at Princeton University: "I confess surprise that a man so dreadfully intellectually and morally challenged as George W. Bush would want a person as intellectually gifted, independent, and morally principled as Sam Alito on the bench."
-by James Ficaro
Stuart Taylor, " A Sampling of Misleading Media Coverage ," National Journal, 12 Dec 2005
Press Release , "IndependentCourt.org Ad Buy on Alito's Record Asks Whether Americans can Trust Him with Seat on Supreme Court," Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary, 4 Jan 2006
Press Release , "PFA-VF Says Consider the Source," Progress for America Voter Fund, 3 Jan 2005
Michael Kranish, " Alito Reviewed '95 Case Involving Sister's Firm ," Boston Globe, 10 Nov 2005
Confirmation Hearing on Appointments to the Federal Judiciary, Committee on the Judiciary U.S. Senate March/April 1990
Samuel Alito Questionnaire, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee 2005
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:55 AM
Friday, January 06, 2006
C-SPAN Special Alert!
The Alito Confirmation Hearings on C-SPAN -- Start Monday at Noon ET
This Monday, the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge
Samuel Alito begin at noon ET. We'll be airing them live as they happen
on C-SPAN, and you can also hear them on C-SPAN Radio or watch online
The hearings start at 9:30 am ET on C-SPAN the rest of the week. And
every day of the hearings, we will re-air them in their entirety in prime
time at 8 pm ET on C-SPAN when you're home to watch.
Follow the rest of the confirmation process with the C-SPAN networks --
watch the committee vote on C-SPAN, and then the Senate floor debate
and vote on C-SPAN2.
C-SPAN Radio is available in the Washington, D.C., area at 90.1 FM, and
nationwide on Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio.
Posted by politicalstuff at 6:06 PM
Did Jesus exist? Italian court to decide
By Phil Stewart
Forget the U.S. debate over intelligent design versus evolution.
An Italian court is tackling Jesus -- and whether the Roman Catholic Church may be breaking the law by teaching that he existed 2,000 years ago.
The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from the same central Italian town and even went to the same seminary school in their teenage years.
The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for the parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal atheist who, after years of legal wrangling, is set to get his day in court later this month.
"I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression," Cascioli told Reuters.
Cascioli says Righi, and by extension the whole Church, broke two Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" (Abuse of Popular Belief) meant to protect people against being swindled or conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona", or impersonation.
"The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John of Gamala," Cascioli claimed, referring to the 1st century Jew who fought against the Roman army.
A court in Viterbo will hear from Righi, who has yet to be indicted, at a January 27 preliminary hearing meant to determine whether the case has enough merit to go forward.
"In my book, The Fable of Christ, I present proof Jesus did not exist as a historic figure. He must now refute this by showing proof of Christ's existence," Cascioli said.
Speaking to Reuters, Righi, 76, sounded frustrated by the case and baffled as to why Cascioli -- who, like him, came from the town of Bagnoregio -- singled him out in his crusade against the Church.
"We're both from Bagnoregio, both of us. We were in seminary together. Then he took a different path and we didn't see each other anymore," Righi said.
"Since I'm a priest, and I write in the parish newspaper, he is now suing me because I 'trick' the people."
Righi claims there is plenty of evidence to support the existence of Jesus, including historical texts.
He also claims that justice is on his side. The judge presiding over the hearing has tried, repeatedly, to dismiss the case -- prompting appeals from Cascioli.
"Cascioli says he didn't exist. And I said that he did," he said. "The judge will to decide if Christ exists or not."
Even Cascioli admits that the odds are against him, especially in Roman Catholic Italy.
"It would take a miracle to win," he joked.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:54 PM
GEORGE W. BUSH: "THE SACRIFICE IN IRAQ HAS BEEN WORTH IT."
11 U.S. Troops Killed in One Day in Iraq
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
The U.S. military said Friday that six more American troops died in the recent surge of violence in Iraq, bringing to 11 the number of U.S. troops slain on the same day.
About 5,000 Shiites, meanwhile, rallied in Baghdad to protest the bloodshed and denounce what they said was American backing of some Sunni politicians who have supported — or at least failed to condemn — insurgent groups in order to bring them into a broad-based government.
In new violence Friday, a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in Baghdad, killing one officer, Col. Noori Ashur said.
Elsewhere, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw held talks in southern Iraq with local officials on forming a broad-based coalition government.
A U.S. Marine and soldier died in Thursday's attack by a suicide bomber who infiltrated a line of police recruits in Ramadi, killing at least 58 and wounding dozens. Two soldiers were also killed in the Baghdad area when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb, the military said Friday.
In addition, two U.S. Marines were killed by separate small arms attacks while conducting combat operations in Fallujah, the military said.
The military had previously announced the deaths of five soldiers hit by a roadside bomb south of Karbala. The attack came minutes before a second suicide bomber struck Shiite pilgrims in that city, killing 63.
It was the fourth-deadliest day in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with at least 136 total deaths, including the U.S. troops.
The 11 U.S. deaths were the most in a single day since 11 Americans were killed on Dec. 1. On that day, 10 Marines were killed by buried bombs as they gathered for a promotion ceremony in an abandoned flour mill in Fallujah, and one soldier was killed in Ramadi.
At least 2,194 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.
Ball bearings from the suicide attacker's vest lay scattered on the earth next to Shiite Islam's holiest shrine in Iraq after the Karbala attack.
In the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, 70 miles west of the capital, Marine Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool said police recruits got back in line to continue the screening process after a suicide bomber attacked. They were apparently desperate for a relatively well-paying job in the impoverished area.
Marine Maj. Gen. Stephen Johnson, commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq, said he suspects al-Qaida in Iraq carried out the Ramadi attack, although he has no proof.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, denounced the violence as a bid to derail the political process at a time when progress was being made toward a government that would include Sunni Arabs and thus possibly weaken the insurgency.
A spokesman for the U.S. military said insurgents are becoming more desperate as the democratic process increasingly takes hold.
"The common people of Iraq are losing their tolerance for the insurgents and terrorists among them, turning in the enemy among them at an increasing rate," said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson. "We aren't past the dangers that threaten progress and there will be more tragedies ahead of us."
At the protest rally, the Shiites demonstrated in Baghdad's Sadr City slum against a spree of attacks and U.S. policy, chanting slogans against U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and moderate Sunni Arab leaders such as Adnan al-Dulaimi.
Most of their ire was directed at hard-liners such as Saleh al-Mutlaq, head of the Sunni Arab National Dialogue Front, who complained of widespread fraud in the Dec. 15 elections.
Khalilzad has urged Iraq's political and religious groups to form a coalition. They include the three top vote-getters and the main Shiite United Iraqi Alliance — leading in results following the elections — al-Dulaimi's main Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front, and a Kurdish coalition.
Khalilzad also said last month that at least 120 abused prisoners were found in two detention facilities run by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry — bolstering complaints by Sunni Arabs about abuse and torture by Interior Ministry security forces.
Shiite organization have complained that the U.S. Embassy and the coalition have placed restrictions on Defense and Interior Ministry forces, which are dominated by Shiites.
Straw held "postelection discussions" in southern Iraq with Basra's governor, members of the city's ruling council, and newly elected national legislators, a British Foreign Ministry spokesman said in London.
Straw's unannounced visit was an "opportune time to get an up-to-date report on what's happening with the political discussions and the security situation" in the four provinces under British responsibility, according to the spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with Foreign Ministry protocol.
The British Broadcasting Corp. said Straw did not plan to meet the 8,000 British troops in southern Iraq but that he would be discussing their eventual withdrawal.
Straw told the BBC the next two or three months would be "fundamental" to the future of Iraq. "If we get it right, it will be optimistic," he said. If the coalition gets it wrong, it could would create a "serious problem," he said.
Iraq's main Shiite religious party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, issued a veiled threat to Sunnis supporting the insurgency that its patience was wearing thin.
But in a chord struck by several politicians, the party also condemned policies it said were imposed by the U.S.-led coalition that were hampering Iraqi security forces' counterterrorism work. The Americans have increased their oversight of Shiite-dominated forces following widespread charges of abuse, especially of Sunni detainees.
"Not allowing these two ministries to do their job means exposing helpless Iraqis to ruthless terrorists," SCIRI said. "They should know that the patience of our people will not last for a long time with these sectarian dirty crimes."
The warning to Sunnis carried the possibility of using militias like the Badr Brigade, the former military wing of SCIRI, to take vengeance on Sunni supporters of insurgents.
The three main attacks Thursday all took place within an hour. The death toll was the largest single-day total since Sept. 14, when 162 died.
The U.S. Embassy said it was appalled by the attacks. "This terror aims simply to kill innocent Iraqis and provoke further conflict between them," the embassy said.
The Karbala bomber detonated a vest stuffed with about 18 pounds of explosives and several hand grenades, Col. Razaq al-Taie said.
The bombing brought back memories of the deadliest civilian attack in Iraq since the war began. On March 2, 2004, coordinated blasts from suicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives exploded near shrines in Karbala and Baghdad, killing at least 181 people. Since then, however, Karbala had been relatively free of violence.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:48 PM
The Emerging Bush Legacy
The following list is, in my opinion, the Bush legacy. It is offered without footnotes, without elaboration or argument, but simply as a list. Perhaps by gathering together these twenty disparate (yet, I believe, related) items, the legacy will be seen for the mean-spirited, unenlightened, arrogant, plutocratic-cronyistic agenda that it is. Never in American history, I believe, has such a disastrous set of principles been enacted.
Each of the twenty has far reaching, negative consequences.
1. Tax cuts leading to massive, unprecedented deficits
2. Preemptive wars against non-aggressive nations
3. Sanctioning of torture
4. De-regulation of environment protections
5. Weakening of the separation of church and state
6. Exempting the gun industry from lawsuits
7. Weakening of individual privacy protections
8. Rejection of international organizations - U.N., World Court, etc.
9. Increased hatred of the U.S.A. in Islamic countries
10. Increase in terrorist attacks since 9/11
11. Neglect of poverty in the U.S.A. and abroad
12. Shifting the tax burden from wealthy corporations and individuals to wage earners
13. Reducing (hoping to abolish) estate taxes thus creating "a permanent aristocracy" in America
14. Furthering anti-intellectualism - a president who admittedly does not read and is embarrassingly inarticulate
15. Increased military spending; hostility to spending for social services
16. Increased number of Americans without health care
17. Rejection of minimum wage increases - five consecutive years
18. Applying the principle of awarding lucrative contracts to crony companies without competitive bidding
19. Attempts to privatize Social Security
20. Four consecutive years of increases in the percentage of Americans living in poverty
Fortunately, the American public seems to be waking up, and perhaps the nation will begin to reverse the Bush assaults upon reason, sustainability, equity, and posterity.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:37 AM
Bush Writes Himself an Exemption to Anti-Torture Law
You probably missed this, since that was exactly the point. Over New Years weekend the Bush Administration "took out the trash," as they say in the business. And this was some particularly smelly garbage.
Remember last month when President Bush agreed to Sen. McCain's legislation banning the use of torture on enemy prisoners?
Unfortunately, it now appears he didn't really mean it. Just as we all headed out for the long weekend, Bush released what's known as a "signing statement," which is basically the Presidential version of crossing your fingers behind your back when you make a promise. In the statement, the President says, in short, "Sure, we don't torture people, unless I think we should."
You can read the full statement in the article posted below this one (sixth paragraph).
The President has basically written himself an exemption. If that tactic seems familiar, it should. It's the same way he recently trampled a decades-old law forbidding domestic wiretapping.
This is ugly business. So ugly that the White House sheepishly released the document when everyone was distracted by the Holidays. So ugly that when the press picked up the story, they couldn't find anyone in the White House willing to comment on the record. Instead, we're left to interpret the wisdom of an anonymous "senior administration official."
Apparently I can't say this enough: It puts our Troops in danger when the President takes anything less than an unequivocal stand against the use of torture. Period.
Not incidentally, it's also bad for national security. That's why IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), stand behind the Torture is Not US campaign, which now looks like it's more important than ever.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:34 AM
This is the document referenced in the article above.
The White House, President George W. Bush
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 30, 2005
President's Statement on Signing of H.R. 2863, the "Department of Defense, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations to Address Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and Pandemic Influenza Act, 2006"
Today, I have signed into law H.R. 2863, the "Department of Defense, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations to Address Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and Pandemic Influenza Act, 2006." The Act provides resources needed to fight the war on terror, help citizens of the Gulf States recover from devastating hurricanes, and protect Americans from a potential influenza pandemic.
Sections 8007, 8011, and 8093 of the Act prohibit the use of funds to initiate a special access program, a new overseas installation, or a new start program, unless the congressional defense committees receive advance notice. The Supreme Court of the United States has stated that the President's authority to classify and control access to information bearing on the national security flows from the Constitution and does not depend upon a legislative grant of authority. Although the advance notice contemplated by sections 8007, 8011, and 8093 can be provided in most situations as a matter of comity, situations may arise, especially in wartime, in which the President must act promptly under his constitutional grants of executive power and authority as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces while protecting certain extraordinarily sensitive national security information. The executive branch shall construe these sections in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President.
Section 8059 of the Act provides that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, no funds available to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2006 may be used to transfer defense articles or services, other than intelligence services, to another nation or an international organization for international peacekeeping, peace enforcement, or humanitarian assistance operations, until 15 days after the executive branch notifies six committees of the Congress of the planned transfer. To the extent that protection of the U.S. Armed Forces deployed for international peacekeeping, peace enforcement, or humanitarian assistance operations might require action of a kind covered by section 8059 sooner than 15 days after notification, the executive branch shall construe the section in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority as Commander in Chief.
A proviso in the Act's appropriation for "Operation and Maintenance, Defense-Wide" purports to prohibit planning for consolidation of certain offices within the Department of Defense. Also, sections 8010(b), 8032, 8037(b), and 8100 purport to specify the content of portions of future budget requests to the Congress. The executive branch shall construe these provisions relating to planning and making of budget recommendations in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to require the opinions of the heads of departments, to supervise the unitary executive branch, and to recommend for congressional consideration such measures as the President shall judge necessary and expedient.
Section 8005 of the Act, relating to requests to congressional committees for reprogramming of funds, shall be construed as calling solely for notification, as any other construction would be inconsistent with the constitutional principles enunciated by the Supreme Court of the United States in INS v. Chadha.
[Below is the referenced paragraph]
The executive branch shall construe section 8104, relating to integration of foreign intelligence information, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority as Commander in Chief, including for the conduct of intelligence operations, and to supervise the unitary executive branch. Also, the executive branch shall construe sections 8106 and 8119 of the Act, which purport to prohibit the President from altering command and control relationships within the Armed Forces, as advisory, as any other construction would be inconsistent with the constitutional grant to the President of the authority of Commander in Chief.
The executive branch shall construe provisions of the Act relating to race, ethnicity, gender, and State residency, such as sections 8014, 8020 and 8057, in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment.
The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks. Further, in light of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2001 in Alexander v. Sandoval, and noting that the text and structure of Title X do not create a private right of action to enforce Title X, the executive branch shall construe Title X not to create a private right of action. Finally, given the decision of the Congress reflected in subsections 1005(e) and 1005(h) that the amendments made to section 2241 of title 28, United States Code, shall apply to past, present, and future actions, including applications for writs of habeas corpus, described in that section, and noting that section 1005 does not confer any constitutional right upon an alien detained abroad as an enemy combatant, the executive branch shall construe section 1005 to preclude the Federal courts from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over any existing or future action, including applications for writs of habeas corpus, described in section 1005.
Language in Division B of the Act, under the heading "Office of Justice Programs, State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance," purports to require the Attorney General to consult congressional committees prior to allocating appropriations for expenditure to execute the law. Because the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and take care that the laws be faithfully executed cannot be made by law subject to a requirement to consult with congressional committees or to involve them in executive decision-making, the executive branch shall construe the provision to require only notification. At the same time, the Attorney General shall, as a matter of comity between the executive and legislative branches, seek and consider the views of appropriate committees in this matter as the Attorney General deems appropriate.
Certain provisions in the Act purport to allocate funds for specified purposes as set forth in the joint explanatory statement of managers that accompanied the Act or other Acts; to make changes in statements of managers that accompanied various appropriations bills reported from conferences in the past; or to direct compliance with a committee report. Such provisions include section 8044 in Division A, and sections 5022, 5023, and 5024 and language under the heading "Natural Resources Conservation Service, Conservation Operations" in Division B, of the Act. Other provisions of the Act, such as sections 8073 and 8082 in Division A, purport to give binding effect to legislative documents not presented to the President. The executive branch shall construe all these provisions in a manner consistent with the bicameral passage and presentment requirements of the Constitution for the making of a law.
GEORGE W. BUSH
THE WHITE HOUSE,
December 30, 2005.
# # #
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Posted by politicalstuff at 12:31 AM
Report: Whistle-Blower to Testify Against NSA
Former Employee Alleges Illegal Intelligence was Conducted
Jan. 5, 2006 — - A former official at the supersecret National Security Agency is reportedly prepared to tell Congress what really went on in the domestic-spying program that was revealed last month.
The Washington Times reported today that Russ Tice, who was fired from the NSA last year, has written and told House and Senate intelligence committees that he knows the government undertook electronic surveillance without obtaining permission from a special secret court.
In letters to the committee, Tice said that "I intend to report to Congress probable unlawful and unconstitutional acts conducted while I was an intelligence officer with the National Security Agency and with the Defense Intelligence Agency."
President Bush, while acknowledging that the special eavesdropping program exists, said it is needed to track down international terrorists through phone numbers linked to al Qaeda. Vice President Dick Cheney said on Wednesday that if the program had been in place before the Sept. 11 attacks, the plane assault on the Pentagon might have been avoided. The Justice Department said that after the 9/11 attacks, Congress granted special powers to the president who then "legally" ordered the spying on communications coming into and out of the United States.
The eavesdropping was first reported by The New York Times. The Justice Department has launched an investigation into who revealed the operation to the newspaper. In his Dec. 16 letters to Congress, Tice said that under a 1998 whistle-blower protection law, he can testify legally about intelligence operations without facing punishment.
The New York Times story came on the same day that Tice sent the letters to the intelligence committee chairmen. Congress is expected to hold hearings soon on whether the eavesdropping violated the right to privacy.
ABC News' John Cochran contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:28 AM
Fla. Court Strikes Down School Vouchers
Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down School Vouchers Saying Program Is Unconstitutional
By BILL KACZOR
The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Supreme Court struck down a statewide voucher system Thursday that allowed children to attend private schools at taxpayer expense a program Gov. Jeb Bush considered one of his proudest achievements.
It was the nation's first statewide voucher program.
In a 5-2 ruling, the high court said the program undermines the public schools and violates the Florida Constitution's requirement of a uniform system of free public education.
Voucher opponents had also argued that the program violated the separation of church and state in giving tax dollars to parochial schools an argument a lower court agreed with. But the state Supreme Court did not address that issue.
About 700 children are attending private or parochial schools through the program. But the ruling will not become effective until the end of the school year.
"I think it is a sad day for accountability in our state," Bush said. He said the voucher program had a positive effect because it "put pressure on school districts to focus on the underperforming schools."
The voucher setup was a part of an education program on the governor's part that also includes testing at virtually every level and a school grading system that offers performance-based rewards and punishments.
Bush said he will look for ways to continue the voucher programs, such as finding private money, changing state law or amending the Florida Constitution.
"I don't think any option should be taken off the table," the governor said. "School choice is as American as apple pie in my opinion. ... The world is made richer and fuller and more vibrant when you have choices."
Under the 1999 law, students at public schools that earn a failing grade from the state in two out of four years were eligible for vouchers to attend private schools.
Chief Justice Barbara Pariente said the program "diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools," which are the sole means set out in the state constitution for educating Florida children.
The ruling was a victory for public schools across the state and nation, said Ron Meyer, lead attorney for a coalition that challenged the voucher program.
"Students using vouchers will now be welcomed back into Florida public schools," Meyer said in a statement. "It decides with finality that the voucher program is unconstitutional."
Anticipating the possibility of an adverse ruling, the governor has been working on a backup plan to keep voucher students in private schools by providing tax credits to corporations that give students scholarships.
Clark Neily, an attorney who argued the case for voucher advocates, called the decision "a setback for those parents and children trapped in failing schools."
The U.S. Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support the state. Voucher opponents included the state teachers union, the Florida PTA, the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.
The ruling did not directly affect nearly 30,000 students in two other voucher programs for disabled and poor children, but it could be cited as a precedent.
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Posted by politicalstuff at 12:27 AM
Bush Recess Appointments Meet With Protest
Lawmakers, Groups Protest Bush's Bypassing Senate to Make Recess Appointments
By DEB RIECHMANN
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - President Bush's decision to bypass the Senate in filling posts at the State Department, Federal Election Commission and National Labor Relations Board drew protests Thursday from lawmakers and advocacy groups.
Under the Constitution, the president may avoid the Senate confirmation process and make appointments while the chamber is in recess. Such appointments usually are short-term, expiring at the end of next congressional session.
But because the Senate held a pro forma session Tuesday and then adjourned, the White House contends the second session of the 109th Congress has begun. Therefore, the White House believes Bush's nearly 20 recess appointments are valid until the following session, which won't conclude until the end of 2007.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the appointments were necessary to fill vacancies, and that a few posts were empty because some lawmakers "are playing politics with the nomination process."
However, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the regular confirmation process should be used so the Senate can be assured that nominees are qualified.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., protested Hans von Spakovsky's appointment to the FEC. Kennedy said von Spakovsky, a Justice Department lawyer who was Republican Party chairman in Fulton County, Ga., worked toward requiring Georgia voters to have a photo identification a requirement critics said would harm black voters.
Kennedy also contended that von Spakovsky was involved in a decision that rejected a recommendation of career Justice Department lawyers in a Texas redistricting case. Those lawyers had concluded that the redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it eliminated several districts where minorities had substantial voting power and illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power.
The president also appointed to the FEC Robert Lenhard, who was part of a legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and Steven Walther, a lawyer with ties to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Reid, Kennedy and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney all expressed disappointment with Bush's recess appointment of Peter Kirsanow to the National Labor Relations Board, citing his record as a member of the Commission on Civil Rights.
"He is an ardent foe of basic worker protections, including the minimum wage and prevailing wage laws, and is a vehement opponent of affirmative action," Kennedy said.
Bush's appointment of Ellen Sauerbrey to be assistant secretary of state for refugees, population and migration, was opposed by advocacy groups that say she lacks experience on refugee issues. Currently, Sauerbrey is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the status of women.
"Sauerbrey's record at the United Nations has been a relentless effort to foist the administration's anti-choice agenda onto international bodies dealing with population and reproductive health and rights," said Jodi Jacobson, director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, a group that advocates for the health and rights of women and girls across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he was disturbed by the recess appointments of Julie Myers to head the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Tracy Henke to lead the Homeland Security Department's office of state and local preparedness. Myers' confirmation was stalled because of concerns that she lacks experience to head immigration and customs enforcement, the federal government's second-largest investigative force.
Lieberman complained that the president appointed Henke before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had a chance to vote on her nomination. "The recess appointment power should be sparingly used, and not merely to avoid having to put administration nominees to a vote," Lieberman said.
The senator had earlier expressed concern about Henke's decision at the Justice Department to delete statistics about racial disparities in traffic stops from a draft press release an action that Lieberman said "may have undermined the office's reputation for objectivity and independence."
Henke said she edited the press release because it didn't accurately portray information in a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:24 AM
Thursday, January 05, 2006
GEORGE W. BUSH: "THE SACRIFICE IN IRAQ HAS BEEN WORTH IT."
130 Dead in Series of Attacks in Iraq
By SAMEER N. YACOUB, Associated Press Writer
Suicide bombers targeted Shiite pilgrims in the south and police recruits in central Iraq, and a roadside bomb killed five U.S. soldiers, bringing Thursday's death toll to at least 130 people in a series of attacks as politicians tried to form a coalition government.
The two-day toll from insurgent attacks rose to 183, reflecting a dramatic upsurge in bloodshed following the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. Some leading Sunni politicians accuse the Shiite-led government of condoning fraud in the voting.
Iraq's prime minister denounced the violence as an attempt to derail the political process at a time when progress was being made toward including the Sunnis in a new, broad-based government and thereby weakening the Sunni-led insurgency.
But Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, blamed the violence on Sunni Arab groups that fared poorly in the elections. SCIRI warned that Shiite patience was wearing thin, and it accused the U.S.-led coalition forces of restraining the Iraqi army and its police forces.
Thursday's death toll — the largest single-day total since Sept. 14, when 112 died, and one of the bloodiest days in the three-year insurgency — included the death of five American soldiers killed by a roadside bomb while patrolling the Baghdad area, the U.S. military said.
Earlier, Iraqi police Capt. Rahim Slaho said the U.S. convoy was heading for the Shiite holy city of Karbala when it was attacked 15 miles south of the city, and five soldiers were killed.
At least 2,188 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.
A suicide blast near the Imam Hussein shrine in central Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, killed 63 people and injured 120, Karbala police spokesman Rahman Meshawi said.
In the attack's aftermath, a woman and an infant girl in a bright red jumpsuit lay in a pool of blood, their faces covered by a sheet. Television images showed men ferrying the wounded in pushcarts.
The bomber appeared to have blown himself up about 30 yards from the shrine in a busy pedestrian area surrounded by shops.
In Ramadi, a U.S. spokesman said dozens were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a line of about 1,000 police recruits. Marine Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool initially put the death toll at about 30, but Mohammed al-Ani, a doctor at Ramadi General Hospital, later said 56 people were killed and 60 injured.
The attack took place at a police screening center in Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold 70 miles west of Baghdad. Pool said recruits later got back in line to continue the screening process.
In other violence Thursday, a suicide car bomb killed three Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Thamir al-Gharawi said, and gunmen killed three people in separate incidents, police said, raising Thursday's death toll to 110.
The Karbala bomber detonated a vest stuffed with about 18 pounds of explosives and several hand grenades, al-Taie said. Small steel balls that had been packed into the suicide vest were found at the site, as was one unexploded grenade, he said.
Many pilgrims travel to Karbala on Thursdays to be at the holy site for Friday prayers. Mohammed Saheb said he travels there every Thursday.
"I never thought that such a crime could happen near this holy site," said Saheb, who sustained a head injury. "The terrorists spare no place from their ugly deeds. This is a criminal act against faithful pilgrims. The terrorists are targeting the Shiites."
Akram Saleh, a vendor, said he lost consciousness after the explosion.
"I was selling toys near the shrine when I flew into the air because of the explosion," he said from a hospital bed, where he was being treated for burns and bruises.
Karbala's governor, Aqeel al-Khazraji, blamed "takfiris and Saddamists" for the Karbala attack. The takfiri ideology is followed by extremist Sunni Muslims bent on killing anyone they consider an infidel, even fellow Muslims. Al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a takfiri, and his group often has targeted Shiites.
A senior official in the Iraqi Accordance Movement, the main minority Sunni coalition, denounced the violence and called for solidarity among Iraqis to defeat it, but he blamed the government for allowing it to happen.
"This government has not only failed to end violence, but it has become an accomplice in the cycle of violence by adopting sectarian policies and by weakening the state and strengthening militia groups," Izzat al-Shahbandar said.
SCIRI, a partner in the governing Shiite coalition, said the attacks were part of a plot "to eliminate the Shiites in Iraq."
"These crimes took place after statements and threats of a civil war issued by some Iraq political groups," it said. "Such political groups bear the responsibility for every blood drop that was shed."
It said U.S.-led coalition forces were preventing Iraq's army and police from stopping insurgents, an apparent reference to increased American oversight of Shiite-dominated security forces following widespread charges of abuse — especially of Sunni Arab detainees.
"The multinational forces, and the political entities that declared their support for terrorism, bear the responsibility for the bloodshed that happened in the recent few days. They should know that the patience of our people will not last for a long time," it said.
Karbala has been relatively free of violence since December 2004, when seven people were killed and 31 wounded in an attack. But the deadliest civilian attack in Iraq since the war began came in March 2004 in Karbala, when coordinated blasts from suicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives exploded near Muslim shrines, killing at least 181 people.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber struck a funeral for a Shiite politician's nephew, killing at least 32 mourners, wounding dozens and splattering tombstones with blood. The attack in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, bore hallmarks of Islamic extremist groups.
There also were two car bombings in Baghdad and a militant ambush on a convoy of 60 oil tankers heading from Iraq's biggest refinery to the capital.
Politicians said the funeral attack was an attempt to hinder a broad-based government or force the dominant Shiite alliance into further compromises. Shiites were said to be close to a deal on a coalition with Sunni Arabs and Kurds nearly three weeks after parliamentary elections.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that the "horrendous crime" was the latest in a series of increasingly violent attacks after the Dec. 15 elections, and he called on Iraqis not to undermine the democratic process.
Final results from the elections should be released within two weeks, and they are expected to show the United Iraqi Alliance winning about 130 of parliament's 275 seats. That figure is well short of the 184 needed to form a government.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:08 PM
'Corruption ... very extensive'
By Kevin Johnson and Jim Drinkard, USA TODAY
A little more than a year ago, Jack Abramoff was enjoying many of the benefits access to official Washington can provide.
There were multimillion-dollar lobbying fees to collect, Super Bowl tickets to distribute and lavish trips and dinners to host.
What set Abramoff apart from legitimate Washington power brokers, federal prosecutors say, was his willingness to exploit an extensive network of Capitol Hill contacts - from well-positioned congressional staffers to members of the Republican leadership - regardless of the rules.
"The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff is very extensive," Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher said. "Government officials and governmental action are not for sale."
Abramoff's campaign of corruption officially ended Tuesday when he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion. In addition to about 10 years in prison, he may be forced to repay more than $25 million, according to court documents.
Prosecutors say Abramoff's cooperation is central to a wide-ranging corruption investigation that stretches from Capitol Hill to congressional districts across the USA.
At least a dozen FBI field offices have been drawn into the inquiry, FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker said. Authorities have declined to disclose the number of possible targets in the ongoing inquiry, but it goes beyond one member of Congress or his office. "No criminal resources of the FBI will be spared in support of this important mission," Swecker said.
The plea agreement outlined a scheme by which Abramoff and his secret partner, public relations operative Michael Scanlon, billed Indian tribes for exorbitant fees, then split the profits. Abramoff hid some of the money from the IRS by directing it to a non-profit group he established, the Capital Athletic Foundation.
Abramoff's share of the kickbacks from fees paid by four Indian tribes in Louisiana, Texas, Michigan and Mississippi came to more than $20 million, prosecutors said.
Abramoff and Scanlon also provided "a stream of things of value" to public officials to get their help. The stream included "foreign and domestic travel, golf fees, frequent meals, entertainment, election support ... employment for relatives of officials and campaign contributions," court documents say.
Among the recipients were a House member identified by the lawmaker's attorney as Rep. Bob Ney (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio, and members of Ney's staff. They got trips to the Northern Marianas Islands in 2000, to the Super Bowl in Tampa in 2001, and to Scotland's storied St. Andrews golf course in 2002, according to the documents. Ney also held fundraising events at Abramoff's now-defunct Washington restaurant, Signatures.
In return, Ney and his aides put statements in the Congressional Record supportive of Abramoff's interests and helped an Abramoff client get a wireless telephone contract with the House of Representatives, the government charged. In a statement, Ney denied that he was influenced by Abramoff.
Abramoff also funneled $50,000 to the wife of an unnamed congressional aide in 2000 and 2001, in return for the aide's help in blocking legislation for a client.
Abramoff's guilty plea follows weeks of other scandal news involving government officials.
Republican Tom DeLay stepped down from his position as House majority leader last year after he was indicted on money-laundering charges in a separate case in his home state of Texas. DeLay has close ties to Abramoff, who employed some of the Texan's former aides and paid for a separate golf trip to Scotland for DeLay. Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned from the House in November after pleading guilty to taking at least $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.
The developments appear to be damaging Americans' perception of their elected representatives.
A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Dec. 16-18 found that 49% of American adults say they believe "most members of Congress are corrupt." That's 1 percentage point below the level of 1994, when voters turned control of Congress over to Republicans. The GOP appears to be tarred by scandal slightly more than the Democrats; 47% said "almost all" or "many" Republicans are corrupt, compared with 44% for Democrats.
Among registered voters, 55% said the issue of corruption will be the "most important" or a "very important" factor in their decision on whom to vote for next year. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3 to 5 percentage points, depending on the question.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan called Abramoff's confessed conduct "outrageous."
"He needs to be held to account, and he needs to be punished," McClellan said. Abramoff was among President Bush's Pioneers, who raised at least $100,000 for his re-election in 2004.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:32 AM
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
4-year scandal of the 9/11 billions
This series was reported and written by the Daily News Investigative Team: RUSS BUETTNER, HEIDI EVANS, ROBERT GEARTY, BRIAN KATES, GREG B. SMITH and Assistant Managing Editor RICHARD T. PIENCIAK
Just two days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, with the nation still in deep collective shock, President Bush met in the Oval Office with Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton.
Schumer gave the commander in chief first-hand details of our city's devastation and the horror, then told him New York needed at least $20 billion to recover and rebuild.
Without hesitation, Bush agreed.
So whatever happened to the President's promise, which was later increased to $21.4 billion? And, what happened to the money we did get? Did it go to those who needed help the most? Or did some of it end up lining the pockets of the wealthy, the well-connected and hucksters who played the system?
Four years after 9/11, it is time to lift the veil of our collective sorrow and examine without sentimentality or fear of political incorrectness what was done with the generous commitment underwritten by American taxpayers.
(Note: This report originally appeared on December 3rd, 2005)
Today, the Daily News Investigative Team begins an in-depth examination of the federal government's Sept. 11 disaster recovery program for New York City.
The 9/11 tragedy brought out the best in most of us — the countless acts of heroism, the passionate outpouring of volunteerism and the unprecedented generosity of a grieving nation.
It turns out that the huge and sudden influx of billions of dollars in federal disaster recovery aid also brought out the worst in others — to a degree that is sad and disheartening.
To be sure, the financial assistance given to New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks delivered tremendous benefit to countless citizens and businesses, small and large.
But a four-month Daily News investigation of the $21.4 billion disaster recovery package reveals that major elements of the aid process were procedurally flawed — from the determination of how much money was supposedly needed, to how it was distributed, to how it was actually spent and ultimately, to how little oversight there was over the spending. In effect, no one was watching.
As a result, 9/11 recovery aid was used to finance a plethora of projects that taxpayers elsewhere could be forgiven for characterizing as old-fashioned pork-barrel spending.
# Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on projects that seemingly had nothing to do with 9/11 and lower Manhattan.
# Programs were plagued with so many loopholes that millions more ended up being given to recipients who did not fit the full intent of the particular program.
# Still more millions went to help projects already in the works before 9/11 or on the drawing board with no prior funding source.
# Huge contracts were given to companies and organizations linked to the very officials tasked with deciding how to spend the money — creating, at a minimum, the potential for multiple conflicts of interest.
# Substantial sums were given to companies to stay in lower Manhattan even though they had no intention of leaving.
# In many cases, original eligibility rules were expanded, and deadlines extended, so that virtually no one was ineligible. Vast numbers of applications were filed during the final weeks of signup periods.
# Rules for some aid programs were so loose and broadly drawn that otherwise honest people grabbed their little piece of the 9/11 money pot — like the thousands of New Yorkers who took advantage of FEMA by obtaining free air conditioners, air purifiers, air filters and/or high-efficiency vacuum cleaners.
# The gold rush also attracted businesses and organizations that followed all the rules for obtaining relief but didn't necessarily need free money to survive.
Then there's the city Department of Education. It did such a poor job of keeping track of how it spent its $32 million share of Project Liberty grief counseling funds, that four years later, the feds are still withholding $26.8 million. Finally, The News found that program after program was designed, then redesigned, with a singular goal: spend every dime.
For example, in August 2002, the Empire State Development Corp. revised the formula for its Business Recovery Grant program to make the maximum awards available to more companies. Based on the old rules and the spending rate at that point, the recovery grant program never would have spent its full allotment.
WHO GETS WHAT
Because the amount of money was established before the scope of the need was determined, Congress had to guess how best to distribute the funds among federal agencies. Technically, virtually all of the money has been allocated, but significant amounts have yet to be spent. Gov. Pataki wants to use $2 billion worth of unused, expired Liberty Zone benefits to help pay for a rail link connecting Kennedy Airport to lower Manhattan.
Another chunk of leftover cash, $125 million in unused workers' compensation funding, has been a lightning rod for a New York vs. Red States battle. Republicans had wanted to recoup those funds while the New York delegation has argued that the money is desperately needed to fund medical services for the legions of heroic workers who are plagued with chronic illnesses they say were caused by working at Ground Zero. A tentative deal has been struck to restore the funds.
Although some police, fire and security projects in the city were paid out of the $21.4 billion, the federal 9/11 disaster recovery aid did not include New York's share of anti-terrorism legislation that paid for multibillion-dollar improvements in our nation's security.
The federal recovery aid also does not include the $7 billion paid out by the Victim Compensation Fund.
CHANGING THE RULES
For 9/11, longstanding disaster aid rules were turned on their head.
Take the $8.8 billion dispensed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency — 40% of the overall aid package.
Under the Stafford Act, which governs federal disaster relief, victims typically first apply to the Small Business Administration for loans. If rejected, applications are generally made to FEMA. That rule was dropped in New York.
Additionally, for the first time, FEMA paid 100% of claims across the board, instead of splitting it 75%-25% with the locality. Also, instead of reimbursing all qualified claims, for the first time FEMA aid was capped — at $8.8 billion. Since the money "had" to be used, the rules had to be changed — such as the deadline extensions and loosened eligibility requirements.
Because of the need for immediate work orders, city procurement rules went out the window; there were many no-bid contracts.
And considering the size of the aid package — the same as the estimated 2003 gross domestic product of Afghanistan — there was little aggressive monitoring or oversight for fraud and misappropriation.
There was no incentive to do so, either. The local political effort focused on getting every penny of Bush's promise, getting the money faster, extending application deadlines, expanding access and easing eligibility requirements.
But in the end, what did all that speedy and forceful effort mean for one of New York's main disaster recovery goals — the rebuilding of Ground Zero?
With fighting over the International Freedom Center, the Drawing Center, the sanctity of the twin towers' footprint — with sparring between the governor and the mayor over stalled development at the site, along with angry words from victims' families and other special interests — Ground Zero remains the big loser.
Additional research by Ellen Locker
No science behind number
The magic number of "$20 billion" that President Bush first said he would give New York was actually pulled from thin air, a figure born of politics and compassion rather than actuarial calculation and meaningful analysis.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) came up with the number in an effort to match the amount of emergency money being planned for anti-terrorism security across the country — legislation that made no specific mention of New York.
"To ask for more than $20 billion — more for New York than for all the military and the rest of the country — would seem excessive," Schumer told the Daily News. "But to ask for less than $20 billion would be derelict in my duties as a New York senator. So I figured, 'Let's match it, $20 billion for the rest and $20 billion for New York.'"
Schumer remembers Bush asking, "New York really needs $20 billion?"
"At least that, Mr. President," Schumer replied.
"You got it," said Bush.
As Schumer later recalled, "I got up out of my chair, and I almost went over to hug him, but I realized he was the President, so I patted him on the back."
From the moment the Oval Office meeting of Sept. 13, 2001 ended, come hell or high water, New York City was going to get its $20 billion.
Displays of machismo by Bush, Gov. Pataki and then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani also played a part in the recovery-aid equation.
Bush said an attack on New York was an attack on America. A message had to be sent to the terrorists that we would not cower — lower Manhattan had to be rebuilt.
Pataki and Giuliani said that in order to guarantee the area's future as a business capital, it was important to rebuild bigger and better — a phrase that became one of the mantras of the 9/11 recovery.
Simple replacement was not going to be good enough.
For a while, there was talk that the $20 billion was only a down payment. On Oct. 9, 2001, with Giuliani's support, Pataki announced a credulity-straining $54 billion rebuilding plan that included funding a high-speed passenger rail service between Manhattan and Schenectady — 170 miles upstate. The plan quickly died.
Over time, the rest of the nation gradually lost its political and emotional sympathy for New York. The White House budget director accused New York legislators of playing a "moneygrubbing game."
In March 2002, Bush announced a final overall aid package of $21.4 billion. But the number bounced around until the White House, city Controller William Thompson and others said the package had fallen to $20.8 billion because of "program adjustments."
In fact, it will be years, if ever, before the final tally can be calculated. There will probably always be unresolved issues regarding the value of tax benefits included in the overall aid package.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:01 PM
The New York Times
Question for Judge Alito: What About One Person One Vote?
By ADAM COHEN
When Samuel Alito Jr. applied for a top job in the Reagan Justice Department, he explained what had attracted him to constitutional law as a college student. He was motivated, he said, "in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment." The reapportionment cases that so upset young Mr. Alito were a series of landmark decisions that established a principle that is now a cornerstone of American democracy: one person one vote.
There has been a lot of talk about the abortion views of Judge Alito, President Bush's Supreme Court nominee. But his views on the redistricting cases may be more important. Senator Joseph Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who will be one of those doing the questioning when confirmation hearings begin next week, said recently that Judge Alito's statements about one person one vote could do more to jeopardize his nomination than his statements about Roe v. Wade.
Rejecting the one-person-one-vote principle is a radical position. If Judge Alito still holds this view today, he could lead the court to accept a very different vision of American democracy, one in which it would be far easier for powerful special interests to get a stranglehold on government.
Even if Judge Alito has changed his position on the reapportionment cases, the fact that he was drawn to constitutional law because of his opposition to those rulings raises serious questions about his views on democracy and equality.
The one-person-one-vote principle traces to the Supreme Court's 1962 decision in Baker v. Carr. At the time, legislative districts had wildly unequal numbers of people, and representatives from underpopulated rural districts controlled many state legislatures. In Maryland, 14 percent of the voters could elect a majority of the State Senate, and 25 percent could elect a majority of the State House. In Alabama, the county that includes Birmingham, which had 600,000 people, got the same number of state senators - one - as a county with barely 15,000 people.
In Baker v. Carr, Tennessee voters challenged their state's unequal legislative districts, which had not been redrawn in 60 years. The Supreme Court had rejected a similar claim out of Illinois in 1946, saying it did not want to enter the "political thicket." But in 1962, the Warren court decided it had to enter the thicket to vindicate the rights of Tennesseans whose votes were being unfairly diluted. It ordered Tennessee's lines redrawn.
Two years later, in Reynolds v. Sims, the court struck down Alabama's legislative districts. The Reynolds decision did what Baker had not: it established a clear mathematical standard.
The court held that the equal protection clause required that "as nearly as is practicable one man's vote" must "be worth as much as another's."
Baker v. Carr set off what a leading election law treatise calls "the reapportionment revolution." In nine months, lawsuits challenging district lines were filed in 34 states. They did not solve all the problems with legislative districts - the current court is still wrestling with partisan gerrymandering - but they made American democracy much fairer.
As a Princeton undergraduate, Samuel Alito sided with Tennessee and Alabama in the reapportionment cases. What is unclear - and what senators will no doubt try to pin down - is whether he ever changed his mind. He cited his opposition to the reapportionment cases, apparently as a point of pride, in his application for the Reagan Justice Department job in 1985, when he was 35 years old and a midcareer lawyer.
Baker and Reynolds seem so self-evidently correct today that it is hard to imagine that Judge Alito could still really oppose them. But there is a strong strand of antidemocratic thinking among far-right lawyers. Jay Bybee, who helped develop the Bush administration's pro-torture policy and is now a federal judge, has criticized the 17th Amendment, which requires that United States senators be elected by the people, instead of by state legislatures, as they once were. And an American Enterprise Institute scholar, writing in The Washington Times, recently defended Judge Alito by suggesting that Baker v. Carr was wrong.
If Judge Alito was able to forge a conservative Supreme Court majority to overturn the reapportionment cases, the results would be disastrous. The next Tom DeLay-style redistricting in Texas could conceivably stuff most of the state's Democratic voters into two or three multimillion-person Congressional districts, while reserving the state's remaining 30 or so seats for Republicans. Small claques could control entire state governments - as they did until 1962.
Whatever the chances of overturning the reapportionment cases, the Senate should ask Judge Alito what he so disliked about them. The idea that reapportionment is territory the court cannot enter was long ago rejected by the legal mainstream. Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims may have been "activist" rulings, but for the most justifiable reason: to ensure that the democratic process is not rigged to thwart the will of the majority.
Judge Alito has himself espoused more activist views, notably his legally dubious vote to overturn a Congressional ban on machine guns. One possibility is that Judge Alito, who was a member of an alumni group that opposed coeducation and affirmative action at Princeton, is at heart an elitist who believes the reapportionment cases simply made the country too democratic.
Judge Alito will most likely insist at his hearings that he feels bound by Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims. Even if he can be trusted, it will say a great deal about him if he supports one person one vote only because he believes that respect for precedent, or confirmation politics, requires it. Most Americans know, based on their innate sense of justice and the Constitution, why the pre-1960's way of electing legislators was not acceptable then and is not now.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:19 AM
The New York Times
Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda
By DAVID S. CLOUD and JEFF GERTH
WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 - A Pentagon contractor that paid Iraqi newspapers to print positive articles written by American soldiers has also been compensating Sunni religious scholars in Iraq in return for assistance with its propaganda work, according to current and former employees.
The Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations company, was told early in 2005 by the Pentagon to identify religious leaders who could help produce messages that would persuade Sunnis in violence-ridden Anbar Province to participate in national elections and reject the insurgency, according to a former employee.
Since then, the company has retained three or four Sunni religious scholars to offer advice and write reports for military commanders on the content of propaganda campaigns, the former employee said. But documents and Lincoln executives say the company's ties to religious leaders and dozens of other prominent Iraqis is aimed also at enabling it to exercise influence in Iraqi communities on behalf of clients, including the military.
"We do reach out to clerics," Paige Craig, a Lincoln executive vice president, said in an interview. "We meet with local government officials and with local businessmen. We need to have relationships that are broad enough and deep enough that we can touch all the various aspects of society." He declined to discuss specific projects the company has with the military or commercial clients.
"We have on staff people who are experts in religious and cultural matters," Mr. Craig said. "We meet with a wide variety of people to get their input. Most of the people we meet with overseas don't want or need compensation, they want a dialogue."
Internal company financial records show that Lincoln spent about $144,000 on the program from May to September. It is unclear how much of this money, if any, went to the religious scholars, whose identities could not be learned. The amount is a tiny portion of the contracts, worth tens of millions, that Lincoln has received from the military for "information operations," but the effort is especially sensitive.
Sunni religious scholars are considered highly influential within the country's minority Sunni population. Sunnis form the core of the insurgency.
Each of the religious scholars underwent vetting before being brought into the program to ensure that they were not involved in the insurgency, said a former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Lincoln's Pentagon contract prohibits workers from discussing their activities. The identities of the Sunni scholars have been kept secret to prevent insurgent reprisals, and they were never taken to Camp Victory, the American base outside Baghdad where Lincoln employees work with military personnel.
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the American military in Baghdad, declined to comment.
After the disclosure in November that the military used Lincoln to plant articles written by American troops in Iraqi newspapers, the Pentagon ordered an investigation, led by Navy Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk.
Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, said that a preliminary assessment made shortly after the military's information campaign was disclosed concluded that the Army was "operating within our authorities and the appropriate legal procedures."
Admiral Van Buskirk has finished his investigation, several Pentagon officials said, but it has not been made public.
Lincoln recently sought approval from the military to make Sunni religious leaders one of several "target audiences" of the propaganda effort in Iraq. A Lincoln plan titled "Divide and Prosper" presented in October to the Special Operations Command in Tampa, which oversees information operations, suggested that reaching religious leaders was vital for reducing Sunni support for the insurgency.
"Clerics exercise a great deal of influence over the people in their communities and oftentimes it is the religious leaders who incite people to violence and to support the insurgent cause," the company said in the proposal, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times.
In some cases, "insurgent groups may provide Sunni leaders with financial compensation in return for that cleric's loyalty and support," the proposal said, adding that religious leaders are motivated by "a need to retain patronage" and a "desire to maintain religious and moral authority."
Unlike in many other Middle Eastern countries, sermons by Iraqi imams are not subject to government control, enabling them to speak "without fear of repercussions," the document said.
The Special Operations Command said in a statement that it did not adopt the Lincoln plan, choosing another contractor's proposal instead. When the Lincoln Group was incorporated in 2004, using the name Iraqex, its stated purpose was to provide support services for business development, trade and investment in Iraq.
But the company soon shifted to information warfare and psychological operations, two former employees said. The company was awarded three new Pentagon contracts, worth tens of millions of dollars, they said.
Payments to the scholars were originally part of Lincoln's contract to aid the military with information warfare in Anbar Province. Known as the "Western Missions" contract, it also called for producing radio and television advertisements, Web sites, posters, and for placing advertisements and opinion articles in Iraqi publications. In October, Lincoln was awarded a new contract by the Pentagon for work in Iraq, including continued contact with Muslim scholars.
Lincoln has also turned to American scholars and political consultants for advice on the content of the propaganda campaign in Iraq, records indicate. Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization, said he had reviewed materials produced by the company during two trips to Iraq within the past two years.
"I visited Camp Victory and looked over some of their proposals or products and commented on their ideas," Mr. Rubin said in an e-mailed response to questions about his links to Lincoln. "I am not nor have I been an employee of the Lincoln Group. I do not receive a salary from them."
He added: "Normally, when I travel, I receive reimbursement of expenses including a per diem and/or honorarium." But Mr. Rubin would not comment further on how much in such payments he may have received from Lincoln.
Mr. Rubin was quoted last month in The New York Times about Lincoln's work for the Pentagon placing articles in Iraqi publications: "I'm not surprised this goes on," he said, without disclosing his work for Lincoln. "Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents - replete with oil boom cash - do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind our backs."
Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from Baghdad, Iraq, for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:17 AM
The New York Times
New Rules Set for Giving Out Antiterror Aid
By ERIC LIPTON
Facing cuts in antiterrorism financing, the Department of Homeland Security plans to announce today that it will evaluate new requests for money from an $800 million aid program for cities based less on politics and more on assessments of where terrorists are likely to strike and potentially cause the greatest damage, department officials say.
The changes to the program, the Urban Area Security Initiative, are being driven in part by a reduction in the overall pool of money for antiterrorism efforts. For 2006, Congress has appropriated $120 million less in these urban grants than for 2005.
Domestic security grants in general, including the urban area ones, have been criticized because they have sent more antiterrorism money per capita to sparsely populated states like Wyoming and Alaska than to states like New York and California.
The shift in policy, to be announced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, could mean less antiterrorism aid for the 50 cities that received money last year under the program. Or, as is more likely, the department could reduce the number of cities on the list or cut grants for cities deemed at lower risk.
Until the application process is under way, it is unclear what the impact may be in cities now receiving money under the program, including New York.
Set up after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Homeland Security Department's local and state grant programs have drawn repeated criticism from members of Congress and budget watchdog groups because the early emphasis on spreading the money around resulted in tens of millions of dollars going to some communities where, critics said, the terrorist threat was not as urgent as elsewhere.
Examples cited in recent testimony to Congress include $557,400 awarded to North Pole, Alaska, a city of about 1,700 residents, to buy rescue and communications equipment, and $500,000 to Outagamie County, Wis., population 165,000, to buy chemical suits, rescue saws, disaster-response trailers, emergency lighting and a bomb disposal vehicle.
Mr. Chertoff, in a speech last month, said the changes he was considering would require an acknowledgment that the nation could not protect itself against all risks.
"That means tough choices," he said. "And choices mean focusing on the risks which are the greatest. And that means some risks get less focus."
Officials from some smaller American cities that have received grants said they deserved a reasonable share of the antiterrorism aid.
"We certainly are much smaller than a city like New York or Los Angeles," said Don Thorson, administrator for the grant program in Omaha.
But, Mr. Thorson said: "We still are an urban area. And we still have risks. No one can predict where a terrorist might strike. Look where Timothy McVeigh struck. It was Oklahoma City."
Omaha received $5.1 million last year, which it used to buy bomb suits and communications equipment, among other items.
Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the shift properly made risk a more meaningful factor in allocating the money.
"The more risk-based they can make it, the better," Mr. King said. "It sends a message to Congress that homeland security is a serious matter, it is not a public works project, that we are not going down the pork-barrel road. That is vital."
Homeland Security officials would not offer predictions of what the likely outcome would be in terms of how many cities would see their grants eliminated or cut significantly.
The Urban Area Security Initiative represents $765 million of the $2.5 billion budgeted in the 2006 fiscal year for state and local antiterrorism programs. A separate Homeland Security grant program, which gives money directly to states, has been allocated $550 million by Congress this fiscal year. That money will still be distributed, in part, based on a formula that sets a minimum for each state. But for the first time, money not obligated by this formula will be distributed based on risk.
When the Urban Area Security grants were first announced in 2003, only seven cities were given money: New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston. But the list quickly grew to 30 cities and finally to 50 as more cities were deemed eligible for the grants.
Last year, even though the number of cities remained about the same, a much larger share of the money went to the biggest cities, with New York getting $207.5 million, compared with $49.7 million in 2004.
The system to be unveiled today evaluates applications for aid based on how well cities meet emergency preparedness standards recently established by the Homeland Security Department.
The standards include detailed steps that local and state governments would be required to take in response to potential threats, like the release of the nerve agent Sarin in office buildings or the truck bombing of a sports arena. The applications will also be ranked based on a significantly expanded database that the agency has set up to try to objectively measure the risk level in each city, department officials said. The database includes, for example, an inventory of high-profile government buildings and major structures like bridges, as well as daily ridership on a subway system and how many subway stations a city system has.
Risk is defined as a combination of the perceived threat, the vulnerability of a particular city or asset, and the consequences of an attack.
"The system before was fairly Neanderthalic," one Homeland Security official said, on condition on anonymity because he did not want to pre-empt Mr. Chertoff's announcement. "It was very, very sophomoric."
Mr. Chertoff has made clear that he expects protests when the final grant awards are announced.
"To each individual, the risks that touch him or her personally are the most urgent and of greatest concern," he said in his speech last month. "But I know you also know that as someone who has responsibility for making decisions that touch on all Americans, I have to weigh, with limited resources, the allocation of resources based on the greatest risk, and that means some people are going to be disappointed."
The prospect of increased competition for the money comes as no surprise to officials in some smaller cities.
"We anticipated there would be a point soon where Bush would be concerned about throwing so much money out there," said Samuel Simon, director of public safety in St. Louis.
The city received $7 million last year, money spent - wisely, Mr. Simon said - to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic flu outbreak or small-scale terrorist attack.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:16 AM
Monday, January 02, 2006
Why Bush’s Warrantless Spying Programs Puts Americans At Risk
Today, President Bush attempted to justify his secret domestic spying program:
The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers, called from the outside of the United States and of known al Qaeda or affiliate people. In other words, the enemy is calling somebody and we want to know who they’re calling and why.
In fact, according to this explanation, the program was not only illegal but unnecessarily puts the American people at risk.
If we know that U.S. persons are communicating with al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates, the surveillance would be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (Remember, doing so would not slow the process down because you can obtain the approval up to 72-hours after the surveillance has begun.) Evidence obtained with a warrant from the FISA court, in most cases, can be used to charge and prosecute a suspect. In fact, Section 218 of the Patriot Act amended FISA to make it easier to introduce evidence obtained with a FISA warrant to prosecute people.
Every conversation monitored under Bush’s warrantless domestic surveillance program is a missed opportunity to get someone who is talking with terrorists off the streets and behind bars.
Why? Becuase evidence obtained by Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program is probably not admissible in court. Convictions obtained with evidence from this program may be overturned. Suspected terrorists are already pursuing appeals.
Conversation between U.S. persons and a known terrorists should be monitored. But those conversations should be monitored in a way maximizes the security of the American people. Bush’s secret program doesn’t do it. We’d be much safer if he would cancel it and start following the law.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:06 AM
NSA Gave Other U.S. Agencies Information From Surveillance
Fruit of Eavesdropping Was Processed and Cross-Checked With Databases
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Information captured by the National Security Agency's secret eavesdropping on communications between the United States and overseas has been passed on to other government agencies, which cross-check the information with tips and information collected in other databases, current and former administration officials said.
The NSA has turned such information over to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and to other government entities, said three current and former senior administration officials, although it could not be determined which agencies received what types of information. Information from intercepts -- which typically includes records of telephone or e-mail communications -- would be made available by request to agencies that are allowed to have it, including the FBI, DIA, CIA and Department of Homeland Security, one former official said.
At least one of those organizations, the DIA, has used NSA information as the basis for carrying out surveillance of people in the country suspected of posing a threat, according to two sources. A DIA spokesman said the agency does not conduct such domestic surveillance but would not comment further. Spokesmen for the FBI, the CIA and the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, declined to comment on the use of NSA data.
Since the revelation last month that President Bush had authorized the NSA to intercept communications inside the United States, public concern has focused primarily on the legality of the NSA eavesdropping. Less attention has been paid to, and little is known about, how the NSA's information may have been used by other government agencies to investigate American citizens or to cross-check with other databases. In the 1960s and 1970s, the military used NSA intercepts to maintain files on U.S. peace activists, revelations of which prompted Congress to restrict the NSA from intercepting communications of Americans.
Today's NSA intercepts yield two broad categories of information, said a former administration official familiar with the program: "content," which would include transcripts of a phone call or e-mail, and "non-content," which would be records showing, for example, who in the United States was called by, or was calling, a number in another country thought to have a connection to a terrorist group. At the same time, NSA tries to limit identifying the names of Americans involved.
"NSA can make either type of information available to other [intelligence] agencies where relevant, but with appropriate masking of its origin," meaning that the source of the information and method of getting it would be concealed, the former official said.
Agencies that get the information can use it to conduct "data mining," or looking for patterns or matches with other databases that they maintain, which may or may not be specifically geared toward detecting terrorism threats, he said. "They are seeking to separate the known from the unknown, relationships or associations," he added.
The NSA would sometimes monitor telephones, e-mails or fax communications in cases where individuals in the United States -- and sometimes people they contacted -- were linked to an alleged foreign terrorist group, officials have said. The NSA, officials said, limited its decisions to follow-up with more electronic surveillance on an individual to those cases where there was some apparent link to terrorist sources.
But other agencies, one former official said, have used phone numbers or other records obtained from NSA in combination with wide-ranging databases to look for links and associations. "What data sets are included is a policy decision [made by individual agencies] when they involve other than terrorist links," he said.
DIA personnel stationed inside the United States went further on occasion, conducting physical surveillance of people or vehicles identified as a result of NSA intercepts, said two sources familiar with the operations, although the DIA said it does not conduct such activities.
The military personnel -- some of whose findings were reported to the Northern Command in Colorado -- were employed as part of the Pentagon's growing post-Sept. 11, 2001, domestic intelligence activity based on the need to protect Defense Department facilities and personnel from terrorist attacks, the sources said.
Northcom was set up in October 2002 to conduct operations to deter, prevent and defeat terrorist threats in the United States and its territories. The command runs two fusion centers that receive and analyze intelligence gathered by other government agencies.
Those Northcom centers conduct data mining, where information received from the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, state and local police, and the Pentagon's Talon system are cross-checked to see if patterns develop that could indicate terrorist activities.
Talon is a system that civilian and military personnel use to report suspicious activities around military installations. Information from these reports is fed into a database known as the Joint Protection Enterprise Network, which is managed, as is the Talon system, by the Counterintelligence Field Activity, the newest Defense Department intelligence agency to focus primarily on counterterrorism. The database is shared with intelligence and law enforcement agencies and was found last month to have contained information about peace activists and others protesting the Iraq war that appeared to have no bearing on terrorism.
Military officials acknowledged that such information should have been purged after 90 days and that the Talon system was being reviewed.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, deputy director for national intelligence and former head of NSA, told reporters last month that the interception of communications to the United States allegedly connected to terrorists was, in almost every case, of short duration. He also said that when the NSA creates intelligence reports based on information it collects, it minimizes the number of Americans whose identities are disclosed, doing so only when necessary.
"The same minimalizationist standards apply across the board, including for this program," he said of the domestic eavesdropping effort. "To make this very clear -- U.S. identities are minimized in all of NSA's activities, unless, of course, the U.S. identity is essential to understand the inherent intelligence value of the intelligence report." Hayden did not address the question of how long government agencies would archive or handle information from the NSA.
Today's controversy over the domestic NSA intercepts echoes events of more than three decades ago. Beginning in the late 1960s, the NSA was asked initially by the Johnson White House and later by the Army, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to intercept messages to or from the United States. Members of Congress were not informed of the program, code-named Minaret in one phase.
The initial purpose was to "help determine the existence of foreign influence" on "civil disturbances occurring throughout the nation," threats to the president and other issues, Gen. Lew Allen Jr., then director of NSA, told a Select Senate Committee headed by then-Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) in 1975.
Allen, in comments similar to recent Bush administration statements, said collecting communications involving American citizens was approved legally, by two attorneys general. He also said that the Minaret intercepts discovered "a major foreign terrorist act planned in a large city" and prevented "an assassination attempt on a prominent U.S. figure abroad."
Overall, Allen said that 1,200 Americans citizens' calls were intercepted over six years, and that about 1,900 reports were issued in three areas of terrorism. As the Church hearings later showed, the Army expanded the NSA collection and had units around the country gather names and license plates of those attending antiwar rallies and demonstrations. That, in turn, led to creation of files on these individuals within Army intelligence units. At one point a Senate Judiciary subcommittee showed the Army had amassed about 18,000 names. In response, Congress in 1978 passed the Foreign Intelligence Security Act, which limited NSA interception of calls from overseas to U.S. citizens or those involving American citizens traveling abroad.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:03 AM