I’m just beginning to go through the House Intelligence Fake Dragnet Fix bill — what I will henceforth call the RuppRogers Fake Dragnet Fix.
It does have some improvements — the kind of bones you throw into a legislation to entice members of Congress to back what is in fact a broad expansion of surveillance.
One of those is a prohibition on the use of FISA (presumably including Section 215) to engage in bulk collection of certain kinds of records:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Federal Government may not acquire under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) library circulation records, library patron lists, book sales records, book customer lists, firearm sales records, tax return records, education records, or medical records containing information that would identify a person without the use of specific identifiers or selection terms.
I find this interesting, for one, because it is yet another piece of evidence that suggests the government has been using Section 215 (and National Security Letters, probably) to make its own firearm registry, in defiance of congressional intent.
But I also find it instructive to compare this list:
With the list laid out in this letter from Ron Wyden and Mark Udall and others.
I would assume from the difference that NSA was unwilling to give up certain kinds of bulk collection, notably credit card and non-tax return financial records.
I think the use of Section 215 to collect gun records is patently illegal, even though I might support a gun registry if passed legislatively. But if we’re going to roll back that collection, let’s roll back the bulk financial record collection as well.
Because I’m working on a post on John Bates’ response to the NSA Review Group recommendations, I happened to re-review the list of people the Review Group spoke with today (see page 277; Bates was the only one from the FISA Court they spoke with),
See if you find anything odd with this list of entities the Review Group spoke with from the Executive Branch (here’s a handy list of intelligence agencies to compare it to):
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security & Counterterrorism
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Central Intelligence Agency
Defense Intelligence Agency
Department of Commerce
Department of Defense
Department of Homeland Security
Department of Justice
Department of State
Drug Enforcement Agency
Federal Bureau of Investigations
National Archives and Records Administration
National Counterterrorism Center
National Institute for Standards and Technology
National Reconnaissance Office
National Security Advisor
National Security Agency
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
President’s Intelligence Advisory Board
Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board
Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE)
Special Assistant to the President for Cyber Security
Much of the list makes sense. You’ve got the people largely in charge of terrorism (NCTC, Lisa Monaco, FBI, Treasury), you’ve got some of the people in charge of cyber and/or corrupting encryption standards (DHS, Michael Daniel, NIST), you’ve got the people who have to deal with angry foreign leaders (State), you’ve got people in charge of data sharing and storage (PM-ISE and NARA), and you’ve got Commerce (which serves to boost, but also coerce, the tech companies on these issues).
There are some absences. I’m surprised Department of Energy, which plays a key role in counterproliferation, isn’t on here. It’s light on counterintelligence functions, both at DNI and things like AFOSI (which I believe has some nifty cybertools). I’m also a little surprised DOD was represented as a whole, but not some of the branch intelligence organizations. Similarly, DHS was represented as a whole, but not some of its relevant branches (TSA, CBP, and Secret Service).
And then there’s the Drug Enforcement Agency, which is on the list.
And even more alarmingly, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Don’t get me wrong, neither is all that surprising. We know some of the tools covered by the Review Group — notably National Security Letters — have actually been (mis)used in drug investigations as well as in terrorism ones. Given the logic of the certifications we know exist — not to mention the Administration’s fear-mongering and increasing focus on Transnational Crime Organizations not run by Jamie Dimon — I wouldn’t be surprised if Section 702 were used to fight the war on drugs, if it hasn’t already been. And the drug war certainly is a foreign intelligence priority for EO 12333 collection. Given NSA’s increasing inclusion of drug cartels in the boilerplate comments it releases about Snowden stories, I expect we’ll hear some nifty things about the war on drugs before this is out.
Similarly, one of the first things we learned the government was using Section 215 and/or NSLs to collect was purchase records for beauty supplies, otherwise known as explosives precursors. Since then, Members of Congress have talked about tracking fertilizer purchases. And I’d be shocked if there weren’t at least a half-hearted attempt to track pressure cooker purchases. I guess, from ATF’s inclusion among the Review Group’s interlocutors, we know a little bit about where this data resides: in probably the most fucked up law enforcement agency in government (though maybe that’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which thankfully was not considered central enough to talk to the Review Group).
Still, given the increasing number of signals that these authorities have been used to track gun purchases, and ATF’s notorious failures at tracking gun purchases in the past, I wonder whether they’re involved not just to talk about explosives purchases, but also gun records?
The Review Group warned that,
Like other agencies, there are situations in which NSA does and should provide support to the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and other law enforcement entities. But it should not assume the lead for programs that are primarily domestic in nature.
For a variety of reasons (both reasonable and unreasonable), it is much harder to claim that tracking gun purchases pertains to counterterrorism or another foreign intelligence purpose than tracking acetone purchases.
Is this one of the domestic security functions the Review Group worried about?
The US grand strategy of arming moderate groups within Syria’s opposition in the ongoing civil war (remember, we only arm folks so moderate that they eat enemies’ hearts) took a huge blow yesterday, as several groups previously aligned with the moderates threw their support into a group including the Islamist group Jabhat al Nusra, which has affiliations with al Qaeda. With the moderate coalition in disarray, it occurred to me to wonder whether al Nusra will now undergo a reputation-scrubbing and a lobbying campaign similar to that applied to MEK, which has been removed from the official list of terrorist organizations and continues to support US politicians who are willing to sell their services to any group with enough funding. There is hope for the future, though, as a UN treaty that would take significant steps toward stemming the flow of conventional weapons is gathering steam and has now been signed by more than half of the members of the UN.
The Washington Post brings us the news of the fractured moderate coalition:
American hopes of winning more influence over Syria’s fractious rebel movement faded Wednesday after 11 of the biggest armed factions repudiated the Western-backed opposition coalition and announced the formation of a new alliance dedicated to creating an Islamic state.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is the lead signatory of the new group, which will further complicate fledgling U.S. efforts to provide lethal aid to “moderate” rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The defecting groups are blaming the US for failing to come through with promised arms and for not bombing Assad after the August 21 chemical weapons attack:
Abu Hassan, a spokesman for the Tawheed Brigade in Aleppo, echoed those sentiments, citing rebel disappointment with the Obama administration’s failure to go ahead with threatened airstrikes to punish Assad for using chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus last month, as well as its decision to strike a deal with Russia over ways to negotiate a solution.
“Jabhat al-Nusra is a Syrian military formation that fought the regime and played an active role in liberating many locations,” he said. “So we don’t care about the stand of those who don’t care about our interests.”
Toward the end of the New York Times story on this development, we see the al Nusra group being described as less radical than the new kid on the block, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS): Continue reading
It’s a testament to Ron Wyden’s good faith that this letter — asking James Clapper for more information about the government’s secret use of the Section 215 provision of the PATRIOT Act — didn’t try to inflame the NRA.
It’s not until the third paragraph in until Wyden (and the 25 other Senators who signed on) say,
It can be used to collect information on credit card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information, and a range of other sensitive subjects. And the bulk collection authority could potentially be used to supersede bans on maintaining gun owner databases, or laws protecting the privacy of medical records, financial records, and records of book and movie purchases. [my emphasis]
And while Wyden is right that the letter is bipartisan, I really wonder how it is that only four Republicans — Mike Lee, Dean Heller, Mark Kirk, and Lisa Murkowski — signed a letter raising these issues. Seriously. Not even Rand Paul?
I’ll come back to the loaded questions Wyden asks (I’m frankly still working on some loaded questions he asked 6 months ago — it has turned into a nearly fulltime beat).
But in the meantime, why isn’t the NRA screaming yet?
The central thrust of Wayne LaPierre’s press conference offering “solutions” in the wake of the Newtown massacre is to put armed security in every school.
There were 98,706 public schools in 2008-9 (plus 33,740 private schools, which I’ll leave aside).
Even assuming you underpay these armed security guards until such time as school unions represent them, you would pay at least $50,000 in wages and benefits for these armed guards.
That works out to roughly $5 billion, for just one guard in every public school.
That, at a time when we’re defunding education.
In short, Wayne LaPierre just demanded a $5 billion subsidy for his NGO, the price he presumes we should pay as yet another externalized cost of America’s sick relationship with guns.
I’ve got a better idea. Let’s tax gun owners, to cover thus potential cost and the cost of responding to the massacres the NRA enables. Anything short of such stiff taxes would be socialism.
The NYT has a follow-up on Charlie Savage’s earlier article about all the gun safety provisions lying dormant at DOJ. It describes the gaps in the background check system due to states not sharing their data with the federal government.
Nearly two decades after lawmakers began requiring background checks for gun buyers, significant gaps in the F.B.I.’s database of criminal and mental health records allow thousands of people to buy firearms every year who should be barred from doing so.
The database is incomplete because many states have not provided federal authorities with comprehensive records of people involuntarily committed or otherwise ruled mentally ill. Records are also spotty for several other categories of prohibited buyers, including those who have tested positive for illegal drugs or have a history of domestic violence.
In the past I’ve drawn a comparison between our country’s treatment of terrorists and gun nuts, arguing that it has prioritized the less urgent threat.
But this background check database raises interesting comparisons with DHS’ Secure Communities, particularly the effort to ensure that any undocumented person arrested for a crime gets deported. Like terrorism, Secure Communities has hit a point of diminishing returns. As with terrorism, Secure Communities is built to allow for false positives.
Nevertheless, the government has prioritized getting that database completely functioning, with participation from every state.
While the law also allowed the Justice Department to withhold some general law enforcement grant money from states that did not submit their records to the system, the department has not imposed any such penalties, the G.A.O. found.
Not so with gun buyers, apparently.
And the comparison here offers one other lesson. One reason for the delay in data-sharing from the states is the difficulty in implementing an appeals process.
After the Virginia Tech shooting, Congress enacted a law designed to improve the background check system, including directing federal agencies to share relevant data with the F.B.I. and setting up a special grant program to encourage states to share more information with the federal government. But only states that also set up a system for people to petition to get their gun purchasing rights restored were eligible under the law — a key concession to the National Rifle Association — which proved to be an extra hurdle many states have not yet overcome.
Frankly, ensuring people have due process is one of the least offensive things the NRA does (would that they championed the civil rights of felons more generally).
If we demand this for gun ownership, why don’t we demand it for far more damaging terrorism and deportation data mining?
This afternoon, the man who will soon lead a filibuster against laws intended to lessen the chances that a massacre like Newtown will happen again had this to say for the people for Newtown.
So we stand with the people of Newtown today and in the days ahead. We can do nothing to lessen their anguish, but we can let them know that we mourn with them, that we share a tiny part of their burden in our own hearts. And that we lift the victims and their families and the entire community in prayer.
He said nothing in his speech about the personal responsibility he bears for not having acted to prevent this massacre and similar ones before 20 children died. He said nothing about immunizing gun manufacturers and making it easier to buy a gun. Indeed, he remained silent–simply clearing his throat once–when specifically asked about the actions he might take or obstruct to prevent similar massacres in the future.
No, Mitch McConnell. We may not be able to do anything to lessen their anguish, but we sure as hell can do more than your proposed solution–to pray.
I’ve been mentally responding to reactions like this much as The Economist’s Democracy in America did generally.
So unless the American people are willing to actually do something to stop the next massacre of toddlers from happening, we should shut up and quit blubbering. It’s our fault, and until we evince some remorse for our actions or intention to reform ourselves, the idea that we consider ourselves entitled to “mourn” the victims of our own barbaric policies is frankly disgusting.
Unless Mitch McConnell is willing to reverse his career of catering to the NRA, he has no business offering solace to the victims. Because he was one of the people ensuring the perpetrators of this gun violence would have easy access to their guns.
Note, McConnell is not the only one who followed bold words with silence (though he does have the NRA A rating, unlike these others). The White House today refused to say whether gun control was a top priority. And as Alec MacGillis notes, “in the decade since , we’ve heard nary a peep from the side of the spectrum that had previously made this one of their causes.”
In a disgusting demonstration that for the NFL, money dictates that “The Show Must Go On”, the NFL never considered those who, like Dave Zirin, found it astounding that the NFL would encourage the Kansas City Chiefs to go ahead with their game barely 24 hours after Chiefs Coach Romeo Crennel and other Chiefs personnel witnessed Jovan Belcher kill himself with a handgun shortly after he had murdered his girlfriend, the mother of their three month old
son daughter. Zirin tweeted throughout the day on the coverage provided by the various networks as they continued broadcasting games, mostly as if the event had never happened.
But then, just at the close of halftime in the nationally televised Sunday night game on NBC, Bob Costas took the microphone for the minute and a half you see in the YouTube above. Costas started by slamming the cliche that the playing of the game somehow began the “healing” process for those affected by the tragedy, giving voice to the sentiment Zirin had stated earlier. But then Costas moved on to confront an even bigger taboo in the national debate, as he quoted this powerful column by Jason Whitlock, who dared to point out the way that our national sickness relating to guns contributed to this tragedy. From Whitlock:
I would argue that your rationalizations speak to how numb we are in this society to gun violence and murder. We’ve come to accept our insanity. We’d prefer to avoid seriously reflecting upon the absurdity of the prevailing notion that the second amendment somehow enhances our liberty rather than threatens it.
How many young people have to die senselessly? How many lives have to be ruined before we realize the right to bear arms doesn’t protect us from a government equipped with stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks and nuclear weapons?
Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.
In the coming days, Belcher’s actions will be analyzed through the lens of concussions and head injuries. Who knows? Maybe brain damage triggered his violent overreaction to a fight with his girlfriend. What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.
Whitlock deftly destroys so many of the false narratives that our society has forced upon it regarding guns. As he states, this tragedy demonstrates that the second amendment actually threatens our liberty rather than protecting it. He goes on to state that although the second amendment is regarded by many as the last refuge by citizens against a government turned tyrannical, mere guns won’t protect against a determined government armed with “stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks and nuclear weapons”. Whitlock cleanly demonstrates that the pervasive nature of guns in our sickened society is what enables so many senseless deaths, pointing out that both Perkins and Belcher likely would still be alive if a gun had not been available during Belcher’s moment of extreme rage. Whitlock also alluded to the tragic murder of Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida recently in a case that appears to possibly be headed once again into an inovcation of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law that many see as a license for murder.
Whitlock went directly in the face of the cliche, often pointed out by David Waldman on Twitter, that the immediate aftermath of a tragedy of this magnitude is “too soon” to enter into a discussion on the perils of society’s glorification of guns. Others would say that public discussion of guns on a rational basis is no longer possible because of the overwhelming power of the NRA.
The fact is, it is never “too soon” to discuss the role of guns in tragedies because the tragedies come at us so quickly that we would otherwise always be in the quiet period after one gun tragedy or another. But even more importantly, the myth of the power of the NRA has been completely destroyed. In the 2012 elections, Media Matters informs us that the NRA spent just under $12 million but only 0.42 percent of those funds supported winning candidates and only 0.39 percent opposed losing candidates.
Just as the latest round of elections and the current Kabuki over the “fiscal cliff” is poking a hole in Grover Norquist’s power over preventing tax increases, our society may actually be moving toward a more rational discussion on the sickness inherent in our gun culture. I don’t harbor any illusions that progress will be fast or that substantive improvements are even still possible, but if changes do finally take place, we may be able to point to the courage shown by Bob Costas last night as the turning point when we finally started a long overdue discussion.
Three fatal mass shootings within three weeks should be providing an opportunity for a national conversation on civilians having easy access to semiautomatic weapons and high capacity clips that are designed for use in war. Two of the killers in these cases were known by family and/or medical personnel to be dealing with mental issues while the third had generated at least some attention from both government and private groups that monitor groups harboring violent extreme racist views. Despite these clear warning signs in the shooters’ backgrounds, all three legally purchased and possessed their weapons that were designed for wartime use.
Instead of the nation assessing what can be done to prevent weapons designed solely for killing large numbers of people getting into the hands of those who are most likely to put them to that use, we have major players in our society fanning some of the issues that contribute to the problem. Last week, Congressman Joe Walsh delivered a speech casting Muslims as dangerous extremists bent on killing:
“One thing I’m sure of is that there are people in this country – there is a radical strain of Islam in this country -– it’s not just over there –- trying to kill Americans every week. It is a real threat, and it is a threat that is much more at home now than it was after 9/11,” Walsh said.
Walsh went on to claim that radical Islam had found its way into the Chicago suburbs, including some that he represents.
“It’s here. It’s in Elk Grove. It’s in Addison. It’s in Elgin. It’s here,” he said.
Just a few days later, a man was arrested in nearby Morton Grove for firing at a mosque while people were inside praying. Fortunately, this time the shooter only used a pellet gun instead of a weapon of war, which could have led to yet another disaster.
Joe Walsh and other extremists in Congress like Michele Bachmann and Steve King happily spout their venom that fires up racists, but we also learned this week that the man behind the 2009 Department of Homeland Security report on right wing extremist groups capable of violence had his report repudiated and his team dissolved. He subsequently left DHS. Both Democracy Now and Danger Room have chronicled Johnson’s plight. Sadly, Johnson’s work was quite accurate when it came to the shooting at the Sikh temple. From Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room:
Daryl Johnson had a sinking feeling when he started seeing TV reports on Sunday about a shooting in a Wisconsin temple. “I told my wife, ‘This is likely a hate crime perpetrated by a white supremacist who may have had military experience,’” Johnson recalls. Continue reading
The tragic murder of Trayvon Martin has focused attention on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law sponsored originally by Representative Dennis Baxley, who is serving for a second time in a district just south of the one in which I reside. Baxley has long been a symbol of all of the wrongs that ultra-conservative Republicans in Florida represent.
During his first time in Florida’s House from 2000 until he was term-limited out in 2007, Baxley distinguished himself with his outright racism:
Baxley is currently a lonely voice opposing efforts to drop the state’s official song, “The Old Folks at Home.”
A compromise eventually revised the lyrics to remove the most offensive portion and added a state anthem. Here is what Baxley didn’t want removed:
Oh! darkeys, how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home.
As if that were not enough, Baxley had another racist project at the same time:
Baxley is also advocating a new specialty license plate that would showcase the Confederate flag, with proceeds going to a group he belongs to, the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Baxley, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer and the NRA teamed with ALEC to spread “Stand Your Ground” to 21 states. But “Stand Your Ground” is just one of several gun bills Baxley has developed. On his website he also touts a bill that ” eliminated the prohibition on firearms in national forests and state parks”. He also sponsored a bill that would have allowed employees to bring their guns to work, but it was defeated in committee in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings.
Baxley’s image among Florida Republicans is that of an upstanding Baptist Sunday School teacher. He even spent his time out of the House leading Florida’s Christian Coalition, a position from which he spoke out in 2008 about Barack Obama’s exposure to Islam when he was younger:
“He’s pretty scary to us,” he said. “I think his Muslim roots and training — while they try to minimize it — it’s there.”
Asked what he meant, Baxley pointed to Obama’s childhood stint in Indonesia and his Muslim relatives.
“That concerns me particularly in the period of history we are living in, when there’s an active movement by radical Muslims to occupy us,” Baxley said of Obama’s background. “That whole way of life is all about submission. It concerns me that someone rooted in those beginnings, how it might have affected their outlook. That’s what scary for me.”
Baxley’s fear of Obama’s potential “submission” to Islam is particularly ironic, given his complete submission to a distorted radical Christian fundamentalism and gun worship. Back in 2005, Baxley was especially deranged in trying to help David Horowitz fight against fictional persecution of fundamentalist conservatives in academic settings. In the process, Baxley’s bill would have set academic freedom back immensely (garbled formatting in article left as is): Continue reading