A Former President Suggests Self-Censorship; What Does That Mean for America?

A Different America is Being Created

By Linda Lewis

Recently, at the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago, Trish Reagan asked former President Bill Clinton to share his thoughts on domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) for Bloomberg TV.

Clinton defended the NSA programs as necessary, saying, “I don't see any alternative to trying to track all of these groups around the world that are trying to basically wreck the ordinary operations of life in America or kill a lot of people, and so far I'm not persuaded that they've done more harm than good." [Read more...]

The King’s Propaganda

The Astounding Hypocrisy of King Obama

“We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen -- because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent.”  – Barack Obama

propagandaWhen President Obama spoke those words at the Holocaust Memorial Museum last Monday, he was referring to atrocities committed by the government of Nazi Germany.  He urged nations to learn from the Holocaust and commit to preventing new atrocities. Then, he unveiled a plan for America’s implementation of this “core responsibility.”

“I’ve signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence. These technologies should not empower -- these technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them. And it’s one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come -- the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people -- and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny.”Barack Obama

The president made no mention in his speech of torture and extraordinary rendition under his predecessor; no mention of his own administration’s efforts to silence disclosures of government wrongdoing.  In the US government lexicon, “evil” apparently means the use of technology by a government to monitor, track and target citizens for human rights abuses except when the government is the United States or when the government is too powerful to risk angering or a US ally.  This propagandistic definition of evil provides the framework for US foreign policy and the executive order mentioned in Obama’s speech. [Read more...]

UNESCO Shuns WikiLeaks as Speaker at Conference on Implications of WikiLeaks

… And, that’s not all that doesn’t make sense

unescoThis week, the organizers of a UNESCO conference, “The Media World after WikiLeaks and News of the World,” refused to let a WikiLeaks representative participate as a speaker. In so doing, they deprived the world of a full and balanced discussion of issues critical to protecting human rights.  Neither UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) nor the conference organizer, the USA-based World Press Freedom Committee, are apologizing, and traditional news media (with one exception) looked the other way.

As the central player in information-sharing partnerships that changed journalism, WikiLeaks unquestionably has important insights to share on conference topics such as the relationship between new and traditional journalism. But, only half of that partnership, WikiLeaks points out, was invited to speak at the UNESCO conference—and a bias was evident even in the questions selected for debate. [Read more...]

FBI Enlists Internet Café Owners to Spy on Customers

The Government’s Pretexts for Arresting Virtually Anyone

cafeThe US government has developed massive surveillance capabilities to monitor communications, travel and financial transactions in this country and abroad. But, even the government cannot monitor everything Americans do—not directly, anyway.  Thus, it created the Communities Against Terrorism (CAT) program to enlist your friendly local businesses as spies for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The CAT program, funded by the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training program (SLATT) is described as a “tool to engage members of the local community in the fight against terrorism.” The program interprets “local community” to mean businesses, and only registered businesses may access the program’s flyers listing “potential indicators” of terrorist activity.

Each flyer is designed for a particular kind of business. For example, this list was prepared for owners of internet cafes. Unquestionably, someone planning a terrorist attack has engaged in one or more of the “suspicious” activities on that list. But so, too, have most of the estimated 289 million computer users in this country. [Read more...]

Notes from the Star Chamber-Blacklisting in the Digital Age

US Prepares to Censor Internet Access While Urging Internet Freedom for the Rest of the World!

bidenAt the London Conference on Cyberspace, November 1-2, Vice President Joe Biden urged other nations to protect internet freedom of expression.

“Biden did not name countries he felt were offenders. But he criticized the efforts of some nations pursuing an "international legal instrument that would lead to exclusive government control over Internet resources, institutions and content and national barriers on the free flow of information online." (PCWorld)

Meanwhile, back in the US, Congress was preparing to pass a law granting extraordinary powers to censor the internet. The proposed law, described as “the Great Firewall of America,” has the support of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also favors Internet freedom for other countries. If the US government still had any credibility on this issue after banning access to websites posting leaked cables, the latest hypocrisy should have killed it.

Last week, Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX), John Conyers (D-MI), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Howard Berman (D-CA) introduced a House bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). A Senate version, called the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), had been introduced last May by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Charles Grassley (R-IA). The bills propose to let the federal government block public access to websites accused of violating intellectual property rights. They would also require Internet access providers, search engines and payment providers to deny services to websites upon request from rights holders.

A devil in the lack of details

banned The bills have been criticized for their vague language and lack of due process, making them ripe for abuses.

Imagine a world in which any intellectual property holder can, without ever appearing before a judge or setting foot in a courtroom, shut down any website's online advertising programs and block access to credit card payments. The credit card processors and the advertising networks would be required to take quick action against the named website; only the filing of a “counter notification” by the website could get service restored.

Finally, and for good measure, Internet service providers and payment processors get the green light to simply block access to sites on their own volition—no content owner notification even needed. So long as they believe the site is “dedicated to the theft of US property,” Internet providers and payment processors can't be sued. (ArsTechnica)”

Such a law could be used to chill criticism of corporate and government policies. [Read more...]

Notorious “Star Chamber” Courts Protect Government Wrongdoing

U.S. Embraces Tool of Despots


starchamberRecently, Mark Hosenball dropped the bombshell that a secret panel of White House Security Council members meets to draw up a “kill list” of American militants. Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote a scathing critique of the panel, comparing it to a notorious English court known as the “Star Chamber.”

“[A] panel operating out of the White House — that meets in total secrecy, with no known law or rules governing what it can do or how it operates — is empowered to place American citizens on a list to be killed by the CIA, which (by some process nobody knows) eventually makes its way to the President, who is the final Decider.  It is difficult to describe the level of warped authoritarianism necessary to cause someone to lend their support to a twisted Star Chamber like that.”

The Star Chamber, an English court dating back to the middle ages, reportedly was named for the stars on the ceiling of the courtroom, located at Westminster Palace.  Over time, it grew increasingly powerful and corrupt.  By the 17th century, under Charles I, it had become a vehicle for prosecuting political dissent.  The court’s procedures made it virtually impossible for defendants to get a fair hearing and served as a rubber stamp for the monarchy.

“Court sessions were held in secret, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses. Evidence was presented in writing. Over time it evolved into a political weapon, a symbol of the misuse and abuse of power by the English monarchy and courts.”

The Star Chamber also punished religious dissent, ultimately driving the Puritans to seek refuge in North America’s wilderness. Their descendents would form a new nation and endow it with laws that prohibited Star Chamber abuses. Today, “star chamber” is a pejorative term used to describe any administrative body with “strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings” that “cast doubt on the legitimacy of the proceedings.”  Notwithstanding its infamous past, the Star Chamber appeals to government officials who abhor accountability.

The panel that authorized the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki is the most public U.S. example of a star chamber--but it is far from the only one.  The federal government operates a network of star chamber courts administered by government agencies for the purpose of hearing appeals from military and civilian federal employees stripped of their security clearances. Many of those employees are whistleblowers who have disclosed government wrongdoing, thus implicating senior officials.  Senior officials use the star chambers to punish whistleblowers, to discredit their disclosures and to discourage other employees from exposing negligence, waste and corruption.  Existing whistleblower protection laws are helpless to protect federal employees with security clearances from agency reprisal.

Security clearance star chambers violate the U.S. Constitution’s due process protections by presidential order--Executive Order (E.O.) 12968.  These courts go by a variety of names.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Star Chamber is the “Personnel Security Review Board.” The Department of Defense (DOD) calls its star chamber the “Department of Hearings and Appeals.” Each federal agency interprets the executive order differently, and some—for example, USDA—actually provide less due process than E.O. 12968 allows.  All are offensive to modern notions of justice, but none have been held accountable.  Government officials argue that national security requires the suspension of due process; but, a close examination of the appeals process shows that the government’s claim is a fraud. [Read more...]