25 September 2008

Cliff Stearns, Born Again Regulator

Imagine my surprise last night when I decided to watch Rachel Maddow's new show on MSNBC for the first time. Early in the show, she interviewed one of my heroes, Senator Chris Dodd, about his efforts to bring some sanity to the Wall Street bailout proposal originally put forward by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. The interview with Dodd was immediately followed by this interview:
As a resident of Cliff Stearns' district, this was quite a surprise to me. It follows on the even more surprising appearance of Cliff Stearns on the House floor on Tuesday morning, where Stearns appears, with his hair flying and his diction failing, to decry the Paulson proposal (Stearns' comments begin at 5:47 into the clip):

Note especially Stearns' comments at around 8:35 of the clip, where he rails against the fact that in 2003, he was holding hearings on the application of FASB accounting standards to Freddie Mac, but oversight of Freddie Mac was suddenly taken away from his committee.

Why wait five years before protesting this change? It does appear that the hearings he references had the potential to have an impact on operations of Freddie Mac. Here is a statement from Congressman John Dingell commending Stearns for holding the hearings, but cautioning that perhaps better witnesses could be called and warning about the massive lobbying firepower being amassed against any efforts at reform.

Later in 2003, the New York Times would write in a prescient opinion piece:

Even without signs of an imminent calamity, it is hard to argue that these financial enterprises -- essentially two huge hedge funds -- should continue to evade the type of rigorous oversight that banks face on issues like capital requirements and new lines of business. Yet it looks as if Freddie and Fannie, along with the home builders' lobby, may succeed in blocking legislation to transfer regulatory oversight to the Treasury.

The two mortgage enterprises have helped to add liquidity to the housing market and put more working families in new homes. That mission need not be threatened by stronger oversight of their finances. Indeed, it will be protected.

So, although Stearns was holding hearings, he ultimately had oversight of Freddie Mac stripped from his subcommittee. This should have been a situation for him to rise up in righteous indignation and insist that his subcommittee get the jurisdiction back. After all, his party was in charge of both the White House and the both branches of Congress. Instead, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae continued on their path to destruction with powerful lobbyists paving the way for them to avoid meaningful oversight. Is it possible that Stearns' agitation this week results from a realization that he was in the perfect position to prevent this catastrophe five years ago and failed miserably?

What makes Stearns' behavior this week especially odd (besides his agitation to the point of stumbling over his words a lot) is that this behavior is entirely at odds with his historical voting record. Progressive Punch notes that in the category of "Government Checks on Corporate Power" Stearns receives a score of only 7.57% and ranks him 267th out of 422 members. When the analysis is confined to votes on banks and credit card companies, his score drops to 6.45% and his rank to 283rd of 422. Further, the Washington Post reports that Stearns votes with the Republican position 90.9% of the time, making him, as Maddow noted shaking her head after the interview, "very conservative" and a "strange bedfellow" for this position.

A further point is that if any one bill passed by Congress can be said to be at the root of the current financial crisis, it would have to be Phil Gramm's legislative nullification of Glass-Stegall in 1999. As expected, Stearns voted in favor of this massive roll-back of regulation of the financial industry.

But rest assured, Stearns' rediscovery of regulation is not uniform. In his most recent abuse of the Congressional franking privilege, Stearns warns against the re-imposition of the Fariness Doctrine:
Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio has emerged as a dynamic forum for public debate and an asset to the nation.


Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airwaves. It is dangerous to suggest the government should be in the business of rationing free speech.
Now that's the Cliff Stearns I know. Yeah, we can't have the government require that someone should have air time to refute Rush Limbaugh's daily dose of hate.

Cross-posted on The Case Against Cliff.

20 September 2008

My Letter to Chris Dodd

September 20, 2008

Senator Christopher J. Dodd

448 Russell Building

Washington, DC 20510

FAX (202) 224-1083

Dear Senator Dodd,

My name is Jim White and I am writing you from Gainesville, Florida. I was the commenter on Glenn Greenwald’s blog at Salon.com who first suggested last year that we work to find someone in the Senate to place a hold on retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies. Although we did not win that battle, I want to express my sincere gratitude for your very hard work on behalf of our Constitution and on behalf of the citizens of the United States.

I am writing today to urge caution with regard to the Wall Street bail-out legislation being proposed this weekend by the Bush Administration. As we have learned from Naomi Klein’s well documented research in The Shock Doctrine, it is in times such as the currently ongoing crisis when significant damage can be done to the rights and the interests of the common citizen. Please examine the proposed legislation closely with regard to whether it decreases regulatory oversight of the markets and whether it enables a massive transfer of public wealth to private parties. Experience teaches us that those are the goals of many of those who likely have crafted this legislation, and yet, those goals also lie at the root cause of the current crisis.

Rather than merely creating a government agency to act as a virtual “toxic waste dump” for the bad debt many firms have accumulated, Ian Welsh at Firedoglake yesterday suggested that the efforts instead should center on the government entity buying individual mortgages, re-valuing the homes and then writing new, fixed mortgages at low rates. Such a program could place strict limits on subsequent refinancing and could allow government participation in profits when the home is sold later.

At the very least, if massive off-loading of debt from troubled companies is going to occur, my plea is that provisions are included in the legislation to insure that the highest levels of management in these troubled companies suffer economic losses at least as severe as those suffered by stockholders in those companies. If management in these companies is allowed to emerge from the crisis with their massive wealth unscathed, then our country truly will have entered a perverted form of socialism in which we have privatized the profit and socialized the risk of the highest levels of our economic activity. Economic losses for these upper level managers need to be personal, direct and significant. Of special importance is that the personal assets these managers have sent overseas need to be subject to these fines. The unifying theme I have seen expressed for this idea is “Seize ill-gotten gains”. If this is not a part of the overall program enacted, I fear massive civil unrest coupled with even more massive repression. The history and the warnings in Klein’s book should be heeded on this point.

If at all possible, I urge your committee to seek input from Naomi Klein. Her interview on BBC recorded on Thursday of this week provides evidence of the value of her interpretation of current events and what should be done. She would be able to point out the flaws in proposals that would tend toward exacerbating rather than relieving the crisis. Similarly, input from Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman could provide counter-arguments to those who insist that the only solutions are centered on unregulated free markets and privatization of government functions.

As you so elegantly stated in the battle over retroactive immunity, our Constitution is a vital document whose genius lies in part in the system of checks and balances. Many of the problems our country now faces come from the loss of this function. The Wall Street crisis could serve as the opportunity finally to start turning our country back toward those principles on which it was founded. The Congress does not need merely to accept whatever legislation the Bush Administration crafts and to implement it without examination. Please take the lead in assuring that the legislation put forward will be based on Constitutional principles and that it will protect the rights and interests of all citizens, not just the wealth of large corporations.

Thank you for your continuing dedicated and distinguished service to our country.


Jim White

15 September 2008

Two Thirds Disagree with John McCain on Presidential Powers

In a poll released today by AP in conjunction with the National Constitution Center, we find the results of a poll of 1000 adults in the US. I want to concentrate on only one question and its responses:

Only 29% of those polled favor, either strongly or even somewhat, giving the president more power at the expense of the power of Congress or the courts. A full 67% oppose that idea, with 50% opposing it strongly.

That is a very interesting result in light of John McCain's recent actions regarding the powers of the president. In September of 2006, the Senate passed the Military Commissions Act. Prior to passage, McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner staged a bit of political theater, pretending to want to remove all possibility for detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere in US custody to be tortured. In the end, however, they capitulated entirely to George W. Bush, and did so in a way to undermine just those Constitutional protections that the people in the poll above want protected.

Here is how the New York Times described what happened:

The bill would set up rules for the military commissions that will allow the government to proceed with the prosecutions of high-level detainees including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, considered the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

It would make illegal several broadly defined abuses of detainees, while leaving it to the president to establish specific permissible interrogation techniques. And it would strip detainees of a habeas corpus right to challenge their detentions in court.

So, after pretending to be upholding a righteous stand against torture, McCain, as the leader of this stand, then brokered a "compromise" which would leave it "to the president to establish specific permissible interrogation techniques."

The New York Times, in the same article, noted reaction to the bill:
Human rights groups called the vote to approve the bill “dangerous” and “disappointing.” Critics feared that it left the president a large loophole by allowing him to set specific interrogation techniques.
It is hard to imagine how out of touch with the thinking of US citizens John McCain is when it comes to presidential power and torture. A full two thirds of Americans disagree with his views and only 15% strongly favor them.

For the record, it should be pointed out that while John McCain voted in favor of the Military Commissions Act, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton all voted against it.

07 August 2008

Would Ivins Really Have Been Allowed in the Hot Suite After Stopping the Special Immunization Program?

At Emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler has assembled another of her very impressive timelines, in which she has integrated information from yesterday's document dump with other facts from the investigation of the anthrax attacks of 2001. Of particular interest are two early entries on the timeline:

Spring 2001: Ivins taken off Special Immunization Program

September 7, 2001: Ivins put back on Special Immunization Program

From the documents, it is clear that Bruce Ivins was taken off the Special Immunization Program in the spring of 2001 and then immunizations re-started on September 7. That information is impossible to rectify with the chart in the first search warrant attachment, where the government lays out the case for Ivins spending extra time in the laboratory around the time that the materials in the mailings could have been prepared. Note the discussion of Suite B3:
USAMRID containment Suite B3 is a Biological Safety Level-3 (BSL-3) suite of laboratories used by USAMRIID Bacteriology personnel for research on dangerous animal and human pathogens. The flask identified as RMR-1029 was stored in Suite B3 at the time of the letter attacks. Suite access is obtained via a Security Access Control (SAC) badge reader at the door to the cold-side change room, which is secured by a magnetic-lock. A central security system monitors and records a time stamp for each SAC badge and keypad request.

A review of Dr. Ivins's laboratory access records for Building 1425 was assessed to determine trends in working hours and evening times (after 6 p.m.) spent in Suite B3. His regular working hours on average consisted of a 7:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. shift, but he would periodically return in the evenings, presumably to check on the status of various experiments. Beginning in mid-August 200 1 ; however, there was a noticeable spike in Dr. Ivins's evening access to the B3 hot Suite.
If Ivins was taken off of the Special Immunization Program, he should not have had access to the "hot Suite". Here is a chart with a detailed summary of Ivins' after-hours activity from the same document:
As stated above, if Ivins was taken off the Special Immunization Program, it makes no sense that he would have retained access to Suite B3. If that is the case, how can there be access records, after hours, for him to have been in B3 when he was off the immunization program? From the chart, it appears he did not enter the suite after hours in March or May of 2001 and only briefly in April. After hours activity began to build in June and July and then went very high in August, peaking in September and then continuing in October through December. The August time is especially troubling, since he would have been off the immunization program for several months by that time.

Here is a portion of an email in the same document that supports the information above:
September 7,2001, "I was taken off the Special Immunization Program because of what happened last spring, and I've just gotten back on it, getting my anthrax and Yellow fever shots. We are currently finishing up the last of the AVA, and when that is gone, there's nothing to replace it with. I don't know what will happen to the research programs and hot suite work until we get a new lot.
This email confirms that anthrax vaccination was part of the Special Immunization Program. I repeat: How could Ivins have had access to the hot suite while he was off the program?

06 August 2008

The First Search Warrant in the Ivins Case; Updated

The Department of Justice has just released documents in the case against Bruce Ivins as the anthrax killer. In this post, I want to address just the genetic and other technical issues relating to the attack material and whether it can appropriately be linked to Ivins. I will rely only on the first search warrant in the release, other relevant information may be lurking in the other documents.

The CDC examined isolates of the Bacillus anthracis extracted from the powder contained in the letters and compared it to body fluid samples collected from the five decedents. The CDC has determined that the strain of Bacillus anthracis found in each of the decedents' bodies is the same strain of anthrax found in the threat letters mentioned above. This particular strain is commonly known as the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis.
Determination of Origin of Anthrax Contained in 2001 Mailings

The mail attacks are believed to have occurred on two separate occasions, which are delineated by the postmark dates of the recovered letters. Letters used in the first attack were postmarked on 09/18/2001 and were focused to media establishments located in the New York area. Three weeks later, letters postmarked 10/09/2001 were sent to two U.S. Senators in Washington, DC.

In order to fully characterize the threat letters and their contents, the Task Force has conducted numerous physical (phenotypic) and genetic (genotypic) analyses. Physical comparison of the spore powders taken from the Post and Brokaw letters versus the Senator Leahy and Senator Daschle letters reveals obvious differences. The spore powders recovered fiom the Post and Brokaw letters were granular and multicolored in consistency, while the Senator Leahy and Senator Daschle letters contained fine spore powders that were uniform in color.

Microscopic examination of the evidentiary spore powders recovered from all four letters identified an elemental signature of Silicon within the spores. This Silicon signature had not been previously described for Bacillus anthracis organisms.

Much more information is needed here on the physical description of the attack material. See the immediately preceeding post for the information especially relating to "silicon". Professor Matthew Meselson of Harvard has told the FBI that silicon is present in closely related spores. The information in the search warrant is not sufficient to determine whether the Daschle and Leahy samples especially were treated with advanced materials using advanced techniques to make them more deadly. The FBI needs to release electron mircrographs of the attack material, of known highly purified spores and of spores which have been "weaponized" by the scientists at Dugway. Similarly, they need to provide raw X-ray spectrometry data of these three types of samples, as well. This will go a long way toward understanding the expertise involved in preparing the attack material.

Genetic Analysis of the Anthrax Used in the Attacks

Upon visual inspection of the Bacillus anthracis organisms used in the mail attacks, researchers have discovered numerous phenotypic variations, which distinguish it fiom the original Ames anthrax isolated in 1981, which is the earliest known sample. The phenotypic variations were identified as differences in morphology (i.e. shape, color, texture) fiom the original Ames anthrax. Changes in morphology can be attributed to individual genetic mutations within the Bacillus anthracis DNA. As a whole, the collection of all of the genetic mutations found in the anthrax used in the 2001 mailings, serve to provide a "DNA fingerprint" which can, and has been used to investigate other Ames isolates collected from laboratories possessing the Ames strain. Four individual, highly sensitive, and specific molecular assays capable of detecting four of the genetic mutations discovered in the Bacillus anthracis used in the mail attacks have been developed and validated.

Following the mailings, sixteen domestic government, commercial, and university laboratories that had virulent Ames strain Bacillus anthracis in their inventories vrior to the received Arnes strain Bacillus anthracis isolates or samples from all sixteen domestic laboratories, as well as, fiom laboratories in Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. All total, the Task Force has obtained more than 1000 isolates of the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis fiom these laboratories and archived these isolates in the FBI Bacillus anthracis Repository (hereinafter "FBIR").

The four aforementioned molecular assays have been applied to each of the more than 1000 Bacillus anthracis samples contained within the FBIR. Of the more than 1000 FB'R samples, only eight were determined to contain all four genetic mutations.

The Task Force investigation has determined that each of the eight isolates in the FBIR is directly related to a single Bacillus anthracis Ames strain spore batch, identified as RMR-1029. RMR-1029 was stored in the B3 biocontainment suite within Building 1425 of the United States Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Fort Detrick, Maryland. Access to the suite is afforded only to those personnel who are approved by the USAMRIID Security, Safety, and Special Immunizations Program to have the required background check, training, and medical protection (vaccination or personal protective equipment (PPE)). Dr. Bruce Ivins has unrestricted access to the suite and has been the sole custodian of RMR-1029 since it was first grown in 1997.
The language of that first paragraph is very hard to decipher. The "phenotypic" variations they are describing here (shape, color, texture) I think must be referring to the bulk properties of the samples being analyzed and would depend far more on the culture conditions and post-culture processing than on the underlying genetics of the sample. However, the discussion does then move on to actual genetics. It appears that after original DNA sequencing of the attack material identified it as the Ames strain, the FBI then found 16 domestic and several foreign sources of live Ames strain. They then obtained over a thousand different isolates from these sources and carried out a detailed sequence analysis of all of these isolates. They report a combination of four unique mutations that are specific to the attack material. It appears that only 8 of the individual isolates in the analysis shared the four mutations with the attack material. Each of these 8 isolates appeared to have been derived from a single flask, designated RMR-1029, produced in 1997. Bruce Ivins was the sole custodian of this flask from the time it was produced.

The search warrant goes on:

Bacterial contaminant found in attack letters

Both of the anthrax spore powders recovered from the Post and Brokaw letters contain low levels of a bacterial contaminant identified as a strain of Bacillus subtilis. The Bacillus subtilis contaminant has not been detected in the anthrax spore powders recovered from the envelopes mailed to either Senator Leahy or Senator Daschle. Bacillus subtilis is a nonpathogenic bacterium found ubiquitously in the environment. However, genomic DNA sequencing of the specific isolate of Bacillus subtilis discovered within the Post and Brokaw powders reveals that it is genetically distinct from other known isolates of Bacillus subtilis. Analysis of the Bacillus subtilis from the Post and Brokaw envelopes revealed that these two isolates are identical.

Phenotypic and genotypic analyses demonstrate that the RMR-1029 does not have the Bacillus subtilis contaminant found in the evidentiary spore powders, which suggests that the anthrax used in the letter attacks was grown from the material contained in RMR-1029 and not taken directly from the flask and placed in the envelopes. Since RMR-1029 is the genetic parent to the evidentiary spore powders, and it is not known how the Bacillus subtilis contaminant came to be in the Post and Brokaw spore powders, the contaminant must have been introduced during
the production of the Post and Brokaw spores. Taken together, the postmark dates, the Silicon signature, the Bacillus subtilis contaminant, the phenotypic, and the genotypic comparisons, it can be concluded that, on at least two separate occasions, a sample of RMR-1029 was used to grow spores, dried to a powder, packaged in an envelope with a threat letter, and mailed to the victims. '
Several crucial pieces of information are missing here. First, we don't have the amount of material that is in RMR-1029 or its status in terms of processing with regard to purity or possible processing to weaponize it. In later sections of the warrant, Ivins is said to also refer to this flask interchangeably as "Dugway Ames Spores -- 1997", so it is entirely possible that the spores in RMR-1029 are treated with advanced materials. Notice also that this description does not have the previously leaked information regarding carbon-14 dating showing that the attack material was produced in the previous two years before the attack. Nevertheless, the presence of B. subtilis in the attack material is taken as evidence that RMR-1029 was the parent material for the attack material. That simply doesn't follow--if RMR-1029 contained sufficient material, the attack material could have been taken from that flask and mixed with other material, including the B. subtilis. Only with age data could one conclusively determine which sample is the parent. The presence of B. subtilis in one set of samples and its absence in another is also used to argue that RMR-1029 was sampled twice to obtain starter cultures. This also does not follow, as the two sets of attack material, if started from RMR-1029, simply could be from different stages in a purification process after culturing. Finally, the silicon content is referred to with regard to attack material but doesn't appear to be described for the RMR-1029 flask material.

The bottom line is that this search warrant does not solve many of the mysteries surrounding the nature of the material distributed through the mail. Most importantly of all, it is silent on the original source of RMR-1029. These are the critical questions that MUST be answered regarding RMR-1029:

1. Who grew that culture?
2. How large was the culture?
3. Who harvested the culture?
4. How was the material processed?
5. Where was RMR-1029 produced?
6. It it was produced at Dugway, does RMR-1029 contain all of the material produced in that batch?

Sadly, this search warrant leads to more questions than it answers with regard to the source of the anthrax attack material.


I have just noticed that the introductory "Overview" section of the warrant includes this:
At the time of the attacks, he was the custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that possess certain genetic mutations identical to the anthrax used in the attacks;
So we do know that the material in RMR-1029 is highly purified. We still don't know if it is treated in any way to make it more dangerous. We also know that the flask is "large" but still have no idea how much material is there.

04 August 2008

More Speculation on the Source of the Spores in the 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In multiple comments over the past several days on Glenn Greenwald's blog and at Emptywheel, I have stated a belief that the material in the anthrax attacks of 2001, especially in the letters sent to Senators Daschle and Leahy, could only have come from the Army's Dugway Proving Grounds facility operated by Battelle Memorial Institute. However, after reading an article posted in a link in comments last night at Emptywheel, I now am much more open to the possibility that the material could have been produced outside of a sophisticated facility.

There are two key components to this change in my thinking. First, the article in Chemical and Engineering News by Lois Ember calls into question the early reports that the Dashcle material contained silica. It appears that the scientist in that report mis-spoke and that while silicon was detected, silica was not. Relaying information from Professor Matthew Meselson of Harvard, Ember further points out that closely related bacterial spores are reported to contain silicon, so the silicon in the early analysis may not have been from a source other than the spores themselves. Even more importantly, Ember reports that Meselson and another unnamed scientist have seen electron micrographs of the the attack material and there is no evidence that the spores have been treated with either silica or bentonite, as various media reports over time have suggested. In addition, Meselson and "Ken Alibek" (who previously worked for the Soviet bioweapons program) published a letter in the Washington Post, reprinted here, that makes the same contention.

To illustrate this point, and how straightforward the interpretation would be when looking at electron micrographs, I have copied some images from this website. I can't vouch for the authenticity or provenance of the photos, but they do serve to illustrate the points under discussion.

This photo is purported to be an anthrax spore coated with fumed silica and prepared at Dugway:
Note the "fuzzy" appearance of the spore and that, from the scale bar, it is in the 1 micron size range for a single spore of anthrax. Compare that to another photo said to be from the same publication from Dugway, where there is a clump of uncoated spores:

Note that the uncoated spores have a much smoother appearance. Also note that the scale is different here, as the bar is two microns instead of one. Also, the spores in the upper right part of the clump appear to have a little bit of the coating on them. Now compare these coated and partially coated spores with the following photo:
The photo above is specially important in another way. This appears to be a very clean, "pure" sample of spores labeled as anthrax and coming from USAMRIID (which is at Ft. Detrick). Clearly, it is possible to produce very clean preparations of anthrax spores, if the provenance of the photo is correct.

Any person with a significant amount of training in microbiology, sterile technique and basic biosafety standards, in my opinion, could produce highly purified anthrax spores that are untreated, using only equipment costing a few thousand dollars. Only if the spores are treated with a sophisticated material such as fumed silica does the requirement for an advanced facility and more advanced biosafety protocols come into play. The silica itself is highly dangerous to work with and would require much more sophisticated practices to protect the person preparing the material.

Also reported by Ember and elsewhere, is that DNA sequence information has definitively linked the attack material as genetically identical to the strain used at Ft. Detrick and that the water used to grow and/or process the material came from the northeastern US.

However, if the attack material is not treated in a way that requires sophisticated equipment, then anyone who had access to the Ft. Detrick strain could have produced the attack material without being detected. Further, they did not necessarily have to do the work in the northeastern US, since sterile filtered water from a company formerly named Bethesda Research Laboratory (Bethesda, MD) can be purchased. In fact, someone working on their own, without a sophisticated facility, possibly would find it easier to purchase sterilized water to work with, although they also could rely on simple filter sterilization of local water, as well.

If the FBI closes the antrhax case and releases its information in the next few days, it will be crucial to examine their evidence on the analysis of the attack material. If the material was simply purified, untreated spores, it will be very important to see how they connect this material with Bruce Ivins. The amount used in the attacks was millions of times more than he would have used in his experiments, so it is unlikely he would have produced it at Ft. Detrick without his colleagues noticing. This is especially important since producing this amount would begin to run up against the treaty prohibitions against producing amounts that could be used offensively, so he would have had to do it secretly outside the lab.

Further, there needs to be an explanation of the targeting of Senators Daschle and Leahy, with their letters being mailed after the first fatality was known. That mailing is most easily described as trying to get approval for the Patriot Act, and there has been no introduction of evidence that Ivins was even paying attention to that issue. The first death, even if unintended, should have been sufficient to bring attention to the need for an improved anthrax vaccine such as the one Ivins was working on, and thus fulfilling the motivation most have ascribed to his actions if he were the one behind the attacks.

01 August 2008

Connecting Some Dots

As first announced this morning by the Los Angeles Times, a new suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks is dead of an apparent overdose of prescription pharmaceuticals. Like previous suspect Dr. Steven Hatfill, Dr. Bruce Ivins worked at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick, MD. Reports in the press are now saying that Ivins' rationale for releasing the anthrax was to test an anthrax vaccine on which he had been working.

It turns out that the US government got behind that idea of testing the vaccine in a very big way. As reported in the New York Times on September 18, 2006, the government, in response to the anthrax attacks, embarked on
Project BioShield, a $5.6 billion effort to exploit the country’s top medical and scientific brains and fill an emergency medical cabinet with new drugs and vaccines for a host of threats.
What is interesting about BioShield is that one company, Vaxgen, was awarded a contract for $877.5 million to produce a large amount of an anthrax vaccine. That vaccine was described in this way:
VaxGen's rPA102 vaccine is composed of a purified protein called recombinant Protective Antigen (rPA) and an aluminum salt routinely used in many vaccines. This design produces a vaccine that is expected to be well characterized and consistent across manufacturing runs. Recombinant Protective Antigen induces antibodies shown to neutralize anthrax toxins. rPA102 cannot cause anthrax infection.
rPA102 is based on work conducted at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). VaxGen has exclusive, worldwide rights to develop and commercialize a recombinant anthrax vaccine candidate based on patented technology developed by USAMRIID.
And yes, Dr. Ivins is an author of a publication in the journal Vaccine titled "Defining a serological correlate of protection in rabbits for a recombinant anthrax vaccine."

Looking further, Ivins is the first listed inventor of patent number 6,387,665 "Method of making a vaccine for anthrax", which does specifically reference rPA102.

So, the pieces do fit that the anthrax attacks did result in testing of Ivins' vaccine. However, it remains to be proven conclusively that Ivins is indeed responsible for the attacks. What is abundantly clear, however, is that the United States government wasted no time in putting nearly a billion dollars into testing Ivins' vaccine.

30 July 2008

Please respond to this appeal from our friends in Pakistan

FAISAL, who blogs at United4Justice, sent this to AOC's email comments:

A Pakistani Dr. Afia Siddiqi who was kidnapped(with her little children) by Pakistani and USA agencies in 2003 is in Bagram Jail in Afghanistan.

According to media reports she has faced severe torture and due to constant rape by allied force members she has lost her mind.

Please support the appeal for Dr. Afia :


Here is a full reprint of additional material from The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) by way of FAISAL:

Where is Dr Afia Siddiqui? AHRC

Dr. Afia Siddiqui [Photo] left her mother’s house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, Sindh province, along with her three children, in a Metro-cab on March 30, 2003 to catch a flight for Rawalpindi, Punjab province, but never reached the airport. The press reports claimed that Dr. Afia had been picked-up by Pakistani intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggested that she was handed over to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). At the time of her arrest she was 30 years and the mother of three sons the oldest of which was four and the youngest only one month.

A few days later an American news channel, NBC, reported that Afia had been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for terror networks of Osama Bin Laden. The mother of the victim, Mrs. Ismat (who has since passed away) termed the NBC report absurd. She went on to say that Dr. Afia is a neurological scientist and has been living with her husband, Amjad, in the USA for several years.

On April 1, 2003, a small news item was published in an Urdu daily with reference to a press conference of the then Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat. When questioned with regard to Dr. Afia’s arrest he denied that she had been arrested. This was followed by another Urdu daily article on April 2 regarding another press conference in which the same minister said Dr. Afia was connected to Al Qaeda and that she had not been arrested as she was absconding. He added: “You will be astonished to know about the activities of Dr. Afia” A Monthly English magazine of Karachi in a special coverage on Dr. Afia reported that one week after her disappearance, a plain clothed intelligence went to her mother’s house and warned her, “We know that you are connected to higher-ups but do not make an issue out of your daughter’s disappearance.” According to the report the mother was threatened her with ‘dire consequences’ if she made a fuss.

Whilst Dr. Afia’s whereabouts remain unknown, there are reports of a woman called ‘Prisoner 650′ is being detained in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison and that she has been tortured to the point where she has lost her mind. Britain’s Lord Nazeer Ahmed, (of the House of Lords), asked questions in the House about the condition of Prisoner 650 who, according to him is physically tortured and continuously raped by the officers at prison. Lord Nazeer has also submitted that Prisoner 650 has no separate toilet facilities and has to attend to her bathing and movements in full view of the other prisoners.

Also, on July 6, 2008 a British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, called for help for a Pakistani woman she believes has been held in isolation by the Americans in their Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan, for over four years. “I call her the ‘grey lady’ because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continues to haunt those who heard her,” Ms Ridley said at a press conference.

Ms Ridley, who went to Pakistan to appeal for help, said the case came to her attention when she read the book, The Enemy Combatant, by a former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg. After being seized in February 2002 in Islamabad, Mr Begg was held in detention centres in Kandahar and Bagram for about a year before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He recounted his experiences in the book after his release in 2005. Mr. Imran Khan, leader of Justice Party (T.I) suspects that prisoner 650 is the Dr. Afia Siddiqui and USA and Pakistani authorities are hiding facts of ‘Prisoner 650′.

To date, neither the American nor the Pakistani government have come out about the arrest and detention of Dr. Afia in either Bagram or Guantanamo Bay where suspected terrorists are held. On December 30, 2003 Dr. Fawzia Siddiqui, Dr. Afia elder sister met with Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat at Islamabad with Mr Ejazul Haq, MNA, regarding the whereabouts of Dr. Afiai. Mr Faisal told Dr. Fawzia and Mr Ejazul Haq that according to his information Dr. Afia Siddiqui had already been released and that she (Dr. Fawzia) should go home and wait for a phone call from her sister.


Dr. Afia Siddiqui, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, for about 10 years and did her PhD in genetics, returned to Pakistan in 2002. Having failed to get a suitable job, she again visited the US on a valid visa in February 2003 to search for a job and to submit an application to the US immigration authorities. She moved there freely and came back to Karachi by the end of February 2003 after renting a post office box in her name in Maryland for the receipt of her mail. It has been claimed by the FBI (Newsweek International, June 23, 2003, issue) that the box was hired for one Mr Majid Khan, an alleged member of Al Qaeda residing in Baltimore.

Throughout March 2003 flashes of the particulars of Dr. Afia were telecast with her photo on American TV channels and radios painting her as a dangerous Al Qaeda person needed by the FBI for interrogation. On learning of the FBI campaign against her she went underground in Karachi and remained so till her kidnapping. The June 23, 2003, issue of Newsweek International was exclusively devoted to Al Qaeda. The core of the issue was an article “Al Qaeda’s Network in America”. The article has three photographs of so-called Al Qaeda members - Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Dr. Afia Siddiqui and Ali S. Al Marri of Qatar who has studied in the US like Dr. Siddiqui and had long since returned to his homeland. In this article, which has been authored by eight journalists who had access to FBI records, the only charge leveled against Dr. Afia is that “she rented a post-office box to help a former resident of Baltimore named Majid Khan (alleged Al Qaeda suspect) to help establish his US identity.

28 July 2008

John McCain, Torture Enabler

In an interview for the upcoming issue of Newsweek, John McCain had this exchange about the role of the CIA in the interrogation of prisoners:

On torture, why should the CIA be treated differently from the armed services regarding the use of harsh interrogation tactics?
Because they play a special role in the United States of America and our ability to combat terrorists. But we have made it very clear that there is nothing they can do that would violate the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibits torture. We could never torture anyone, but some people misconstrue that who don't understand what the Detainee Treatment Act and the Geneva Conventions are all about.

The number of lies in this statement, and the personal role that John McCain has played in promulgating these lies, is staggering. As a victim of torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese when he was a prisoner of war, McCain should be in a unique position in the Senate to lead the charge to abolish torture of prisoners from Iraq and Afghanistan, yet, time after time, he has yielded instead to political expediency and has allowed himself to be used as a pawn by the Bush Administration in an attempt to cover up the war crimes that have been committed and that continue to this very day.

There were attempts to abolish torture in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, but this fell short and the issue was taken up again with the Military Commissions Act of 2006. As with the previous bill, McCain played the role of the righteous fighter against torture, but in this case wound up brokering a “compromise” that handed Bush everything he wanted. As described by the New York Times, the compromise “would make illegal several broadly defined abuses of detainees, while leaving it to the president to establish specific permissible interrogation techniques.”

Anyone who believes that this President would hold anything back when given the power to determine what comprises torture is living in a fantasyland. For proof, here (see 06-F-01532 doc 07 from the April 13, 2007 entry, page 6) is a portion of a briefing of the Pentagon’s “military analysts” regarding treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo:

In GTMO, that ego down translated down to telling the detainee that his mother and sister were whores, he was forced to wear women's lingerie, multiple allegations of his homosexuality, he was forced to dance with a male interrogator, he was strip searched for control measures, and he was forced to perform dog tricks on a leash.

Now, the basic line there - you say that sounds, you know, like I did - that sounds like degrading. Well, we said yes, it could be. The basic line though in the charter for those interrogations was humane treatment. And humane treatment is spelled out by the President. It's a safe, secure environment that provides medical care, food, water, and the basics of that person's security. Not this. Was this person injured, harmed?

Note that this briefing outlining horrendous treatment clearly constituting torture takes place well after enactment of the Military Commissions Act and goes on to state that this treatment is not torture because the President has said that these prisoners have a “safe, secure environment”, so they are not being tortured. McCain had to know that this is how Bush would interpret the freedom given him by the “compromise” in the MCA and so he had to know that he was the central figure in enabling the ongoing torture at Guantanamo and other detention facilities around the world.

As for the specific role of the CIA in interrogation techniques, McCain played a large role in that, as well. On February 13 of this year, McCain interrupted his campaign for President to come back to the Senate to vote against HR 2082, the Intelligence Authorization Act. The specific provision of this act which McCain wanted to vote against was its extension of the Army Field Manual interrogation techniques to the CIA as the only allowable techniques to be employed. This provision would remove the bulk of the “enhanced techniques” employed by the CIA which are responsible for much of the torture carried out by US personnel. Despite McCain’s “No” vote on this bill, it passed the Senate by a vote of 51 to 45, only to be vetoed by Bush on March 8, based in part on McCain’s call for a veto. The override attempt failed in the House before getting to the Senate.

So now we have McCain’s hands directly on the specific exemption of the CIA from the Army Field Manual interrogation techniques behind his brazen statement in Newsweek that the CIA should be allowed to torture because of its “special role” when it is time to “combat terrorists”. His addition of a disclaimer that we don’t torture simply rings hollow based on the evidence of how prisoners have been treated both before and after the passage of both the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act. McCain’s personal role in enabling further torture by US personnel is inexplicable given his personal history as a victim of torture.

Finally, one more aspect of the “special role” of the CIA is being made clear as the military tribunals for prisoners at Guantanamo are beginning. According to the Los Angeles Times, in a story on July 27:

The name of the Central Intelligence Agency cannot be spoken in the war crimes trial here.

No records of the agency's interrogations of Salim Ahmed Hamdan can be subpoenaed, and no agent can be called to testify about what he or she learned from Osama bin Laden's former driver.

When defense attorney Harry H. Schneider Jr. attempted to demonstrate how many interrogations Hamdan had undergone in the months after his November 2001 arrest -- at least 40 -- he couldn't list the CIA along with more than a dozen other agencies including the Secret Service and what was then known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The prohibition against naming the CIA came in a "protective order" issued by the court at the government's request. The tribunal's deputy chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bruce A. Pagel, couldn't say which agency sought the shield or what arguments were made to justify it.

"It's a bit absurd to go through an entire trial pretending that the CIA doesn't exist," said Matt Pollard, a legal advisor for Amnesty International here to monitor the proceedings.

"The CIA plays a role with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay that has never been fully acknowledged, and the bottom line is that national security should never be claimed against any evidence of torture or human-rights violations."

So now the charade becomes a bit clearer. Legislative efforts to present a false picture that the US does not torture specifically exempt the CIA from torture prohibitions and vest in the President the sole authority to determine what comprises torture. Not surprisingly, the President then allows a wide range of torture techniques and the government takes action to prevent any evidence of the involvement of CIA personnel in interrogations. Sitting smack in the middle of this enabling of war crimes is the one man with the personal history to understand it in its fullest, John McCain.

I truly wonder how he can sleep at night.

22 July 2008

Our Potential Leaders Visiting the Middle East

Now that Barack Obama has visited the Middle East in his role as the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, how can we assess his progress toward looking like a leader, especially when compared to the "more experienced" John McCain. Here's a photo AP just put out of a press conference where Obama is flanked by his traveling companions Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed:

That looks pretty leader-like to me. Last March, John McCain went to the same area with Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. The Washington Post showed us how well that one went:

There really is nothing more to add.

21 July 2008

There Is No Political Center

One of the biggest treats to me at Netroots Nation was a session late Thursday afternoon in which Democracy for America hosted Professor George Lakoff in their small hospitality suite for a live audio webcast of a session of their Night School. They also videotaped the presentation and it is likely a link to the video will be posted here. The topic for the session was Lakoff’s latest book, The Political Mind. In this photo, Professor Lakoff and Matt Blizek, Training Director for Democracy for America , are speaking into the speaker phone while Jim Dean, Chair of DFA, is a blur of activity in the background.

As a cognitive scientist, Lakoff gets our attention immediately by informing us that an estimated 98% of our thought is not conscious. That leads us to the shocking conclusion that our brains constantly make decisions of which we have no awareness. Working from this premise, Lakoff contrasts the “18th Century brain” of the Enlightenment, which is purely based on conscious reason applied to known, verifiable facts with the “21st Century brain” where most thought is not conscious. He then warns us of the dangers of using the older model to address the politics of today.

Because of the prevalence of unconscious thought, Lakoff informs us that when it comes to politics, we think in terms of frames based on moral values. Further, he sees two main modes of political thought, progressive and conservative.

His description of progressive thought is found on page 47 of the book:

Behind every progressive policy lies a single moral value: empathy, together with the responsibility and strength to act on that empathy. Never forget “responsibility and strength,” because there is no true empathy without them.

That is contrasted with the description of conservative thought on page 60:

It begins with the notion that morality is obedience to an authority—assumed to be a legitimate authority who is inherently good, knows right from wrong, functions to protect us from evil in the world, and has both the right and duty to use force to command obedience and fight evil…Obedience to legitimate authority requires both personal responsibility and discipline, which are prime conservative values.

To me, the key concept that Lakoff is presenting is that there is no linear scale from progressive to conservative (or left to right). Instead, on any particular issue, individuals will have a progressive or a conservative view. Further, individuals may be bi-conceptual. That is, it is possible to adhere to the progressive worldview on one issue and the conservative worldview on another.

To illustrate the concept that there is not a linear scale, Lakoff holds up the brilliant example of Senators Joe Lieberman and Chuck Hagel. The popular press incessantly describes both as “centrists”, yet they share virtually no views. On social issues, Lieberman is consistently progressive and Hagel is solidly conservative. On the war, Lieberman is conservative and Hagel is progressive. They share views on nothing, yet both are branded as centrists. How can there be such a thing as a centrist, or a center, if these two agree on nothing?

This brings us to Lakoff’s prescient admonition about the dangers of progressive politicians “moving to the middle”. Note that this book was released in June, so the final version went to press before Barack Obama became the presumptive nominee and started his move to the middle. Lakoff’s warning against this move, I believe, captures entirely the anguish and frustration of progressives who fought hard to make Obama the nominee, only to see him abandon them. From page 59:

Accepting the left-to-right scale leads to the logic—and the claim—that to get more votes you have to move to the right. This actually has three counterproductive effects for progressives:

1. Giving up on policies that fit the progressive moral worldview and hence alienating your base;

2. Accepting policies that fit the conservative moral worldview, thus activating the conservative worldview in voters, which helps the other side; and

3. Not maintaining a consistent moral worldview at all, which makes it look as though you have no values.

I would add that I think it is this third observation, of appearing to have no values, that has led to the widespread complaint in progressive circles that Obama has become “just another politician”, in that politicians are commonly seen as not having values. The “change” that many progressives thought they saw in Obama during the primary battle was his apparent adherence to progressive worldviews without the unprincipled, calculating moves of the politician who readily abandons ideals.

It is truly a shame that Senator Obama did not read an advance copy of this book and follow its very valuable advice.

19 July 2008

Showing It To The Speaker

Madam Speaker,

Did you see me? I think you did. When you took the stage at Netroots Nation 2008 this morning, I was the DFH who held my pocket copy of the Constitution high for you to see. I held it there the entire time you were speaking. I thought that perhaps you needed a reminder of the oath you swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

For the past seven and a half years, our Constitution has been under fierce attack from domestic enemies. Just this month, the Fourth Amendment was eviscerated. Our founders blessed us with a system of government based on checks and balances with three co-equal branches of government. Today, we have a unitary executive and the Congress and the Courts are reduced to mere spectators as our country careens away from consent of the governed. In fact, the press reported that Congress “bowed” to President Bush when it passed the FISA Amendment Act.

The list of offenses is too long to repeat here, and I am sure that your office receives hundreds of communications daily reminding you of just how this government has gone wrong. What I want you to know from my protest is that I am especially appalled at the bipartisan effort to prevent holding anyone in the Bush Administration accountable for the many criminal offenses they have committed.

Those efforts started with you. Despite an overwhelming mandate to punish the Bush Administration for its crimes as evidenced in the 2006 Congressional elections, you, instead, chose to take impeachment off the table.

Now that we have additional, iron-clad evidence of systematic torture of prisoners, which the International Committee of the Red Cross termed “categorically torture”, there is now an even louder drumbeat from apologists to prevent accountability.

Even here, at Netroots Nation 2008, the apologists are out in force. Yesterday, Cass Sunstein, legal advisor to Senator Obama, after a long exposition of the legal morass facing the next President, told us that prosecutions create a cycle of criminalizing political behavior.

However, there is a huge difference between prosecutions undertaken because of a political agenda and prosecutions undertaken to uphold the rule of law. Also appearing yesterday was Governor Don Siegelman. During the question and answer session after his discussion with Sam Seder, I asked the Governor whether he felt, as a victim of a politically based prosecution, that the citizens of the United States could distinguish that from prosecutions to uphold the rule of law. He affirmed, very quickly and vehemently, that our citizens can indeed tell the difference.

Another interesting case is Congressman Bob Barr. Just yesterday, he joined the bipartisan effort known as Accountability Now (and Strange Bedfellows) to call for accountability for the crimes that have been committed in our name. Now we have a veteran of pursuing politically based prosecution of President Clinton calling for bipartisan enforcement of the Constitution. It should be noted that his position on upholding privacy rights is not a new position for his Presidential campaign, but comes from the traditional conservative position of respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.

As Speaker of the House, you have been the one person in the world best positioned to bring this lawlessness to an end. Multiple articles of impeachment have been introduced, and you have sent them to committee to die. Acting almost entirely on your own, it would be possible, even now, for you to see that these charges receive appropriate hearings and then proceed to a vote. Your failure to act in this way makes you an accomplice in these crimes against humanity. Check out the international law terms jus cogens and obligatio erga omnes. The heinous nature of these crimes, your awareness of them and your failure to take action make you equally guilty.

Recently, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court filed charges against Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan. Because you will not force Congress to hold this administration accountable, when Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo files his charges against US officials, I suspect the first three charged will be George W. Bush, Richard B. Cheney and Nancy P.D. Pelosi.

13 July 2008

The Face of Evil; Updated With the Face of Justice

Do you know who this man is?

He is Stuart Taylor, Jr. and he is yet another hack for Brookings Institution. He also writes for Newsweek Magazine and his latest excrement at Newsweek is among the lowest things I have ever seen in print. Just read the first two paragraphs yourself:

Dark deeds have been conducted in the name of the United States government in recent years: the gruesome, late-night circus at Abu Ghraib, the beating to death of captives in Afghanistan, and the officially sanctioned waterboarding and brutalization of high-value Qaeda prisoners. Now demands are growing for senior administration officials to be held accountable and punished. Congressional liberals, human-rights groups and other activists are urging a criminal investigation into high-level "war crimes," including the Bush administration's approval of interrogation methods considered by many to be torture.

It's a bad idea. In fact, President George W. Bush ought to pardon any official from cabinet secretary on down who might plausibly face prosecution for interrogation methods approved by administration lawyers. (It would be unseemly for Bush to pardon Vice President Dick Cheney or himself, but the next president wouldn't allow them to be prosecuted anyway—galling as that may be to critics.) The reason for pardons is simple: what this country needs most is a full and true accounting of what took place. The incoming president should convene a truth commission, with subpoena power, to explore every possible misdeed and derive lessons from it. But this should not be a criminal investigation, which would only force officials to hire lawyers and batten down the hatches.

Oh such high and mighty pronouncements on what is "seemly", and all this from a person who was there front and center when the pummeling of Bill Clinton over his sex life began. Here's Howard Kurtz on Taylor in the Washington Post in March, 1998:
Friends worry that Taylor, by so constantly and unambiguously assailing Clinton as a liar, may be tarnishing his hard-won reputation as a dispassionate legal analyst. The "NewsHour," concerned about the appearance of bias, has stopped using him to talk about Clinton and Lewinsky.

Says Taylor: "There's hardly anyone in the city of Washington who believes him. I don't see much point in pretending the evidence is in equipoise when it isn't."

Or how about Frank Rich, in April, 1998 on Taylor:

Then there's Stuart Taylor Jr., the writer whose 15,000-word article in 1996 declaring Ms. Jones's evidence ''highly persuasive'' -- and describing her as ''a curvaceous, big-haired, outgoing, eye-catching woman'' -- somehow persuaded the mainstream press to find latent legal merit in a case it had originally dismissed as summarily as Judge Wright later would. Second only to Ms. Carpenter-McMillan and William Ginsburg in forging a TV career out of Sexgate, Mr. Taylor has written a new essay titled ''Why Clinton Will Miss Paula Jones'' -- but who's really going to be missing her now?
So there we have it, one of the chief occupants of the fainting couch over Bill Clinton's private life now tells us it would be unseemly to prosecute Bush, Cheney or any of their accomplices for torture, even though he admits, right up front, that these crimes have occurred.

Just yesterday, Glenn Greenwald presented the perfect counterarguments to the drivel Taylor just put out. First, Glenn takes on the assertion by Taylor that "Any prosecutions would also touch off years of partisan warfare." No sir, we can't have that partisan warfare,that is, if Republicans are the ones in the wrong, even if it encompasses crimes against humanity.
Nope, we can only argue for partisan warfare when a Democrat has done something wrong, even if it is only a sexual dalliance.

Here's Greenwald's response to such claims about prosecuting torture:

There are many political disputes -- probably most -- composed of two or more reasonable sides. Whether the U.S. Government has committed war crimes by torturing detainees -- conduct that is illegal under domestic law and international treaties which are binding law in this country -- isn't an example of a reasonable, two-sided political dispute. Nor is the issue of whether the U.S. Government and the telecom industry engaged in illegal acts for years by spying on Americans without warrants. Nor is the question of whether we should allow Government officials to break our laws at will by claiming that doing so is necessary to keep us Safe.

There just aren't two sides to those matters. That's what the International Red Cross means when it says that what we did to Guantanamo detainees was "categorically torture." It's what the only federal judges to adjudicate the question -- all three -- have concluded when they found that the President clearly broke our laws with no valid excuses by spying on our communications for years with no warrants. It's why the Bush administration has sought -- and repeatedly received -- immunity and amnesty for the people who have implemented these policies. It's because these actions are clearly illegal -- criminal -- and we all know that.

No, this isn't an opportunity for revenge for the punishment of Bill Clinton. Any person with any humanity will want acts that are "categorically torture" to be punished to the full extent of the law.

Finally, the main point of Greenwald's post yesterday was to point out that our country now has arrived at the point where the rule of law is gone and the rule of a few men has been substituted:
This is what a country becomes when it decides that it will not live under the rule of law, when it communicates to its political leaders that they are free to do whatever they want -- including breaking our laws -- and there will be no consequences. There are two choices and only two choices for every country -- live under the rule of law or live under the rule of men. We've collectively decided that our most powerful political leaders are not bound by our laws -- that when they break the law, there will be no consequences. We've thus become a country which lives under the proverbial "rule of men"...
If our country intends to return to the fold of civilization, it is imperative that those responsible for torture are held fully accountable for their crimes. That is the only way that the rest of the world would be able to believe us when, after the trials are completed and sentences delivered, our country stands up as one to say "Never Again!"

Taylor sees the evil that has been perpetrated by the Bush cabal, but he piles even greater evil upon it by calling for pardons. When he looks in the mirror in the morning, he is seeing the face of evil looking back at him.

Update, July 14:

Do you know who this man is?
He is Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Today, he filed charges of genocide against Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan. In an interview with CNN's Nic Robertson, this exchange was particularly enlightening:

Q. Sudan's representative, ambassador to the U.N. has already said on the strength of this -- that you are playing with fire by going after Sudan's president.

A. I have a responsibility to the security council -- the security council referred the case to me and requested me to investigate. After 3 years I have strong evidence that al Bashir is committing a genocide -- I cannot be blackmailed -- I cannot yield. Silence never helped the victims. Silence helped the perpetrators. The prosecutor should not be silent.

What a contrast! Ocampo-Moreno understands that silence in the face of crimes against humanity only further enables the perpetrators. Taylor, on the other hand, not only wants silence, but also wants overt acts to pardon the perpetrators. My only hope for the future, is that when George Bush or Dick Cheney looks in the mirror, they will be looking to see if the face of justice is gaining on them.

08 July 2008

The Past Through the Looking Glass, Darkly

Today, attention for stopping the FISA Amendment, H.R.6304, is turning towards the Bingamen amendment, which would delay the retroactive immunity that Title II of the bill grants to the telecoms until the review, in Title III, is conducted and Congress has 90 days to review it. The amendment is seen as the last best hope of passing something to prevent the immunization of the companies involved, dismissing the lawsuits, and finding out how the program worked. The review, for its part, identifies several government agencies, and asks for all communications with and participation of individuals and entities in the private sector.

Tellingly, it begins review at September 11, 2001, and ends it at January 17, 2007. Since we have benchmarks for when the intelligence agencies began breaking the law elsewhere in the handiwork of the Congress, perhaps the final date should be moved to the present. A year and a half is a long time in the computer and surveillance industries. And since it's good enough for the intelligence agencies with respect to other lawbreaking (war crimes, for instance), perhaps that earlier date should be moved to November 26, 1997.

And then, since the list of participants is incomplete, we should add in those that are conspicuously missing from the list of public and private sector entities: Companies and governments outside the United States. I'd like to add Singapore, for instance. Singapore implemented the John Poindexter's TIA program when the Congress here shut it down. That means the program got a beta test offshore, and you can take it to the bank that a group already operating illegally isn't going to ask for permission to bring it online once it works. And we really ought to know what foreign R&D labs of American companies have been cooking up in the way of products that our government can access off-the-shelf. So we should add those R&D labs, if any of their product was ever used by the U.S. government, even if they developed the product for other governments, like China, Pakistan, or other places where the government makes deals to listen to, or restrict, communications.

Sadly, though, any investigation, no matter how detailed, is just looking through the glass darkly, and every revelation of lawbreaking will simply be a way of telling the American citizen what is presently being done legally. The new bill gives such sweeping power to eavesdrop that it is hard to know where to start. I put up a note to this effect on FireDogLake yesterday, I will embellish it here:

As I and others have warned many times before, it is very necessary to look at this bill as stating what queries and artificial intelligence, what data mining, they will be allowed to do on a database of enormous proportions containing the information on the internet, including the traffic of communications (emails, text messaging, etc.). Any interpretation that brings to mind a guy up on your telephone pole splicing wires and some guys in a dark van with lots of glowing LEDs outside your house is simply the wrong picture entirely. The machine that Mark Klein saw being installed in San Francisco takes a snapshot of the web as it is being transmitted at any instant, and reconstructs it to web pages, images, videos, emails, text messages, VoiP, not to mention phone calls and the rest, directly from the optical signals in the fiber optic trunk lines where it is installed.

There are very thoughtful opinions available online that such information quantities are not useful because of things like false positives. In actuality, there are many ways around the problems with false positives if you have the capital in equipment, people to monitor output, and money to spend on research and development. And false positives don't wreck the intelligence so much as make it hard to find. Hard to find intelligence results in spying on more people than you have to, not in abandoning the program. It also results in more and more intense spying on the target, the same way that failure to get usable information out of prisoners results in harsher and harsher torture.

Another thing. I think you could call it toponoesis, since I can't find a term for it, the gut perception that one is in a space. It pervades all of our talk about the internet. The feeling is palpable that one is looking out into a vast virtual place where websites live and spiders and bots roam, where people get together in groups, and movies and various -casts get shown. The intelligence people see it much the same way, in fact, it may not be possible for people to see it as what it really is, a large number of one-to-one and one-to-many communications, with requests made by your browser and fulfilled by a server on the other end of a routed, packetized communication stream.

So there is no way to sit quietly at some vantage point and look with binoculars for some bad guy out there, because there isn't really an out there, and there are no vantage points. What seems like a vantage point, if that vantage point is somewhere in our toponoetic world that can see everything, is actually an enormous vacuum cleaner sucking down a copy of every piece of communications going through it. Think of the guy in the Matrix that points to the vertical strings of numbers and characters and says, "I don't even see the numbers anymore, I see a person here, and agent there..."

Got it? The vacuum cleaner and the database and all that? Because it's important not to let people frame what's going on as just listening in when al Qaeda makes a phone call.

The bill allows surveillance of targets for whom the names and addresses are still not known. Under the circumstances, the requirements in the minimization rules that they delete such information are meaningless.

Consider the following information: Each of 7 people are members of a database and each is a member of one of 7 groups. No two members are members of more than one group, all members are members of at least one group as any other. Under these circumstances, regardless of whether you destroy the personal information of any member, you can always use group memberships to target a single individual. Group memberships in this kind of set up are who you call on the phone, or even which vocabulary words you use most frequently, not to mention nationality or political affiliation.

This is the simplest possible example of what is called an admissible set for an inverse finite Radon transform, sometimes in more general situations called a Galois connection, in very constrained form like in this particular example it is also called a BIBD (balanced incomplete block design), sometimes it is called a finite projective geometry. With all those names, its a good bet that the phenomenon in the previous paragraph is well studied. It needn't be 7 and 7 and 2, it can be a lot of combinations, it can contain more categories than it needs, it can contain more overlaps than 2.

What it means is that if a database exists that contains enough categorical (who is in what group) information, it can always target individuals even though the identification information has been deleted. If part of the identification information is where the individual is (and it is), then one can claim that there was a reasonable expectation that the person is outside the United States with as just as much surety and impunity as one can testify under oath before a Senate committee that one “does not remember” even though it is obvious to everyone watching that one does.

I hope this helps clarify whether, after the passage of this bill, there is anybody they cannot legally target temporarily (for 7 to 60 days depending on court interations after the targeting has started). Once they narrow to a specific individual, this bill, together with those passed before (Patriot Act, FISA upgrades), allows them to claim what this bill says needs to be claimed to get a warrant, and continue the surveillance.

Any bill that does not include rolling back information as a requisite for minimization, and allows targeting without personal information, as this one does, allows spying on you. You. Not just some guy in a turban with a rocket launcher, You. Period and end of story. Go to the White House complaint list for the Leahy bill (SJC version from last Fall) and read what the Bush people hated in that bill, if you don’t believe me.

Oh, and there is that extra kicker I've been trying to warn about, too. Part of the quest for power of this administration is built on developing a class of people who have no rights, and then making that class as large as possible. The designation whenever the class needs to be justified to the public is terrorist. The designation whenever the offender is a country, is proliferator or creator of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Barbara Olshansky's book, Democracy Detained, contains an excellent account of how the class of no rights is intimately involved with mixing up criminal/police work with military/intelligence work until the distinctions between the laws of war and the laws of civil society have been so blurred as to render both meaningless and create the place with no law. Conflating of weapons definitions, emergency medical definitions, civil rights laws, and international human rights laws does the person thing: It creates the person so evil that they belong in the place in which there is no law, and the situation so dangerous that they need to be put there so good people will be allowed to do evil to stop them.

Section 110 of this bill makes everyone that transgresses in any way in the "Global War on Terror" into a trafficker in Weapons of Mass Destruction. If they are persons, they become agents, if they are nations they become proliferators. The IED and any similar weapon becomes a WMD -- a mushroom cloud, to use Condi Rice's characterization. By blurring the lines between a homemade improvised bomb and what the Geneva Conventions commentary refers to as "weapons of annihilation", everyone in the class of people with no rights becomes as evil as if they had detonated a nuclear weapon. Thereby cementing in the public consciousness why they have absolutely no rights and can be tortured. Every country accused of trafficking to such people in weapons or parts, has then been accused of a major act that can, and has been, used as a casus belli for pre-emptive war.

This bill ought to be called the Democratic Version of the Patriot Act. Just like the Republican version, it seeks to remove from living memory whatever it was that patriots once stood for.

07 July 2008

My Fax to Barack Obama

July 7, 2008

Senator Barack Obama
713 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Via Fax (202) 228-4260

CC: Senator Bill Nelson Fax (202 ) 228-2183

Dear Senator Obama,

In 1755, a brave founder of our country said “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

In 1776, another founder wrote “…that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.”

On January 28, 2008 another patriot said :

Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.

The FISA court works. The separation of power works…..

No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people – not the President of the United States and not the telecommunication companies that fell in line with his warrantless surveillance program.

Tomorrow the Senate will take up H.R. 6304. Will you stand with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and the Barack Obama of last January? It will not be enough merely to vote for the Dodd-Feingold amendment to strip retroactive immunity from the bill and then to vote in favor of the bill if immunity fails. There are many flaws in this bill and they all err on the side of sacrificing liberty for safety. The Barack Obama of January would not make that sacrifice.

The citizens of the United States also would not make that sacrifice. In a poll released July 3, Rasmussen Reports, an organization with a distinctly Republican flavor, reports that Americans overwhelmingly support the Constitution. Especially telling from the poll is that when faced with the question of which is the bigger danger to the country, a government that is too powerful or one that is too weak, a resounding 59% of the voting public believe that the bigger danger lies in a government that is too powerful.

You sir, stand poised at a unique tipping point in the history of our country and your actions this week will say much about our joint futures. I urge you to stand with those brave patriots who founded our country on its love for liberty. To take this stand is not to appease the “loony left”. To take this stand is to join with our founders and a majority of voters today to endorse liberty as the only true course to security. Should you choose instead to “triangulate” to the middle on this issue, your action this week could well be seen by future historians as a missed, last, chance to prevent our Constitution being relegated to the dustbin as another failed experiment.


Jim White