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Friday, June 7, 2013

When Will They Come For Me

“First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.” — pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps .Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

“First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The quotation stems from Niemöller's lectures during the early postwar period. Different versions of the quotation exist. These can be attributed to the fact that Niemöller spoke extemporaneously and in a number of settings. Much controversy surrounds the content of the poem as it has been printed in varying forms, referring to diverse groups such as Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Trade Unionists, or Communists depending upon the version. Nonetheless his point was that Germans--in particular, he believed, the leaders of the Protestant churches--had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people.

He latest polls show that less than 50% of Americans are aware of care about the latest spate of scandals and illegal activities by the IRS, the Justice Department, the EPA, Health and Human Services, and now the NSA we might revise Pastor Niemöller's poem to say:

First the IRS came for the Tea Party members, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Tea Party Member.

Then the Justice Department came for the reporters, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a reporter.

Then the politicians came for the gun owners, and I didn't speak out because I didn’t own a gun.

Then the EPA came began regulating my property with regulations if I was a conservative, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a property owning conservative.

Then the NSA began data mining my phone conversations, and I didn't speak out because I had nothing to hide.

Then Health and Human Services came for me by rationing my health care, and I did not speak out because I was not sick.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

The Obama administration found itself defending yet another surveillance effort late Thursday after leaked documents revealed information about two secret National Security Agency intelligence-gathering programs.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Thursday called theJames_R._Clapper_official_portrait disclosure of a program that allows the NSA to collect communications data from Internet companies "reprehensible" and said the phone-records monitoring leak could cause harm to the nation's intelligence gathering activities.

Clapper said The Guardian newspaper's disclosure Wednesday of the top secret court order for telephone records of millions of Verizon customers in the U.S. "threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation."

“The article omits key information regarding how a classified intelligence collection program is used to prevent terrorist attacks and the numerous safeguards that protect privacy and civil liberties.

"I believe it is important for the American people to understand the limits of this targeted counterterrorism program and the principles that govern its use. In order to provide a more thorough understanding of the program, I have directed that certain information related to the “business records” provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act be declassified and immediately released to the public."

Clapper also said the government was "prohibited from indiscriminately sifting through the telephony metadata acquired under the program.” All information acquired, he said, “is subject to strict, court-imposed restrictions on review and handling. The court only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization. “

Several hours earlier, a senior administration official also pushed back, saying the Guardian article and another in the Washington Post about the Internet mining “refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This law does not allow the targeting of any U.S. citizen or of any person located within the United States.”

However, it was not immediately clear what the official meant by “targeting.”

“The program is subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress,” the official said. “It involves extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons.”

A former NSA official told Fox News the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) have been tapping into leading U.S. Internet companies to pull audio, video and photographs.

According to the official, the program began in 2007 and is in the second phase. Metadata from the companies is used to identify suspicious individuals and the secondary search goes into content. The official told Fox News that the Utah Data Center is likely a repository for this material.

Stitched Panorama

The classified program is code-named PRISM, the Washington Post reported, and has not been disclosed publicly before. Members of Congress who are aware of the program were reportedly bound by oaths of office to keep it confidential.

According to slides from an internal presentation intended for NSA senior analysts and obtained by the Washington Post, the program accounts for nearly one in seven intelligence reports.

The companies that participate knowingly in the program are Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, the Washington Post reports.

A number of the Internet companies issued statements Thursday night saying they only complied when legally bound to do so.

"Even when the system works just as advertised, with no American singled out for targeting, the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content," the Washington Post report said. "That is described as "incidental," and it is inherent in contact chaining, one of the basic tools of the trade."

To be immune from lawsuits, companies like Yahoo and AOL are reportedly obliged to accept a directive from the attorney general and national intelligence director to open their service to the FBI's Data Intercept Technology Unit, which acts as a liaison between the companies and the NSA.

According to the slides, there has been “continued exponential growth in tasking to Facebook and Skype."

"With a few clicks and an affirmation that the subject is believed to be engaged in terrorism, espionage or nuclear proliferation, an analyst obtains full access to Facebook’s 'extensive search and surveillance capabilities against the variety of online social networking services,'" the Washington Post reports.

Skype can reportedly be monitored for audio when one end of a call is a conventional telephone and also can be monitored for video, chat and file transfers when users connect just by a computer. Google services that can be monitored include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, and search terms.

A spokesperson for Google says the company "cares deeply" about the security of users' data.

"We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully," the spokesperson said. "From time to time, people allege that we have created a government 'back door' into our systems, but Google does not have a 'back door' for the government to access private user data."

"Protecting the privacy of our users and their data is a top priority for Facebook," the company's chief security officer Joe Sullivan said in a statement. "We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law."

A Microsoft spokesperson said that the company only provides customer data after receiving a legally binding order or subpoena.

"In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers," the spokesperson said. "If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don't participate in it."

If you are reading this online Uncle Sam probably knows it. If you call your friends about the story, the government knows what number you called. These latest scandals about the government investigating its own citizens are blowing up across Washington like early fireworks, with one of the most explosive results coming from one of Obama’s biggest allies.

The New York Times blasted the administration over its massive overreach gathering data on ordinary Americans. “The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue,” wrote the editorial dated June 7 and published Thursday afternoon. This was a big change for a paper that has both endorsed the president and supported him throughout his presidency.

The Times sounded practically Tea Partian in its critique. “Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.” The paper even harkened back to the Constitution, sounding even more like the Tea Partiers it has long mocked. “To casually permit this surveillance — with the American public having no idea that the executive branch is now exercising this power — fundamentally shifts power between the individual and the state, and repudiates constitutional principles governing search, seizure and privacy,” the grey lady continued. Heck, the only Tea Party standard the Times left out was quoting the Founders.

The paper was strong in its criticism of the president: “Mr. Obama clearly had no intention of revealing this eavesdropping, just as he would not have acknowledged the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, had it not been reported in the press.” The Times made it clear it wasn’t accusing Obama of illegality, just of massive wrongdoing. “It is the very sort of thing against which Mr. Obama once railed, when he said in 2007 that the Bush administration’s surveillance policy ‘puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.’” When the Times throws your anti-Bush comments back in your face, you have problems.

The grey lady's editorial section lately has shown frustration with the administration's civil liberties record. It has criticized the escalation of the lethal drone program, and it lashed out after the Justice Department acknowledged seizing reporters' phone records last month.

The report that the National Security Agency has been collecting phone records from millions of Verizon subscribers appeared to be the last straw.

Thursday things got worse — much worse. Three similar stories made their way onto the evening news. First, was the gathering of phone records. Then, a Washington Post story stated that a government program called PRISM was letting the NSA and FBI tap into servers of nine top Internet firms “extracting audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.” Twitter erupted over both stories.

As if that wasn’t enough, NBC News report by Michael Isikoff detailed how, in 2008, Chinese hackers broke into the campaign computers of both Obama and his opponent Sen. John McCain. Who do they think they are? The NSA?

Coupled with the existing scandals of IRS investigations and intimidation of Tea Parties, multiple investigations of the press and misinformation about Benghazi, Obama now faces a crisis of confidence. Not just in his leadership but in the very government he leads — from both sides of the aisle.

Obama isn’t alone in this one. Both sides of official Washington have backed the Patriot Act and other intelligence gathering. Even The Wall Street Journal published an editorial late Thursday saying “Thank You for Data-Mining.” Critics of today’s revelations have also come from both parties. Even former Vice President Al Gore called the practices described in the order “obscenely outrageous” in a message posted on Twitter Wednesday night.

No matter what kind of collateral damage these explosive stories have for other politicians, Obama is still president.  The buck isn’t the only thing that stops at his desk. He also gets to be the front man defending a government that operates more like the Soviet KGB than anything our Founders ever envisioned.

So throw away your cell phones and iPads. Disconnect your computer from the Internet. It’s time to brush up your letter writing skills and talk to people in whispers. Who knows if Big Brother is watching you.

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