Pentagon chief in rare Pakistan visit amid more rows over CIA drone strikes
Chuck Hagel wants to bolster fraught relations with Pakistan as airstrikes continue to cause anger and suspicion
Jon Boone in Lahore
theguardian.com, Monday 9 December 2013 16.17 GMT
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel attempted to bolster the US's fraught relationship with Pakistan during a rare visit to the country – the first by a US defence secretary in more than three years.
With Pakistan running dangerously low on foreign exchange, and the US wanting Islamabad's assistance to help wind down the 12-year war in Afghanistan, both sides are keen for strong ties.
But Hagel's trip was overshadowed by yet another row over CIA drone strikes, which has led to the suspension of trucks carrying vital supplies to troops in Afghanistan along certain roads in Pakistan. A government statement did not say Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, demanded an end to US attacks.
But he conveyed Pakistan's "deep concern over continuing US drone strikes", stressing that they were "counter-productive to our efforts to combat terrorism and extremism on an enduring basis".
There are continued suspicions that Pakistan's army, and perhaps even civilian leaders, continue to give some level of consent to the officially clandestine CIA programme, which the US regards as the only effective way to tackle militant groups holed up on Pakistan's unruly western border. But sporadic air strikes continue to cause intense anger and dismay in Pakistan.
One was the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, on 1 November. Although his violent campaign against the Pakistani state meant he had long been regarded as public enemy number one, his death came at a time when the government had been attempting to initiate peace talks with militants.
Another attack on 21 November on a site associated with the feared Afghan insurgent group the Haqqani Network, caused further outrage, in part because it took place inside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province where opposition politician Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leads the ruling coalition government.
The attack prompted Khan to order an unofficial blockade of Nato convoys travelling through the province.
Although it was unclear how effective the protest had been, last week Nato announced that it had suspended all cargo travelling along that route to ensure the safety of drivers.
A statement released by the US embassy in Islamabad said Hagel had "raised the importance of keeping the ground supply routes out of Afghanistan open", in addition to discussing the problems of Afghan insurgents hiding in Pakistan.
"The secretary stressed that as International Security Assistance Forces draw down over the course of 2014, US and coalition partners remain resolved to not let militants destabilise the region," the statement said.
Hagel also met Raheel Sharif, the recently appointed head of Pakistan's army, which has a significant say in national policy towards Afghanistan.
Pakistan has attempted to improve relations with the US for several months. But, with foreign currency reserves shrinking fast, it is in a weak position to make demands of the US.
In a sign of growing desperation, the finance minister last week asked the US ambassador for cash payments under the "Coalition Support Fund" programme that is designed to help Pakistan recoup the costs of supporting the US-led effort in Afghanistan.
But CSF funds have been held up in the past during low points in the relationship between the two sides, particularly during a seven-month ban on Nato supplies in 2012 following the killing by US aircraft of Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.
US halts military shipments out of Afghanistan
Truckers ordered not to enter neighbouring Pakistan, says Pentagon, after anti-drone demonstrations cause fears for safety
theguardian.com, Tuesday 3 December 2013 23.45 GMT
The US has stopped shipping military equipment out of Afghanistan, citing the risk to truckers from protests along part of the route in neighbouring Pakistan.
The anti-US demonstrations in Pakistan are calling for an end to drone strikes aimed at militants. US officials have responded by ordering truckers under US contract to park at holding areas inside Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said the order affects shipments of equipment and other goods being sent home from military units as their numbers are reduced in Afghanistan.
"We are aware protests have affected one of the primary commercial transit routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said. "We have voluntarily halted US shipments of retrograde cargo … from Torkham Gate [on the Afghan-Pakistan border] through Karachi to ensure the safety of the drivers contracted to move our equipment."
Many supplies coming into Afghanistan for use by remaining troops were redirected via alternate routes long ago, going through other countries, because of previous problems with Pakistan.
"While we favor shipping cargo via Pakistan because of (lower) cost, we have built flexibility and redundancy into our overall system of air, sea and ground routes to transport cargo into and out of Afghanistan," Wright said.
CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have long been a sensitive subject, with officials regularly criticising them in public as a violation of the country's sovereignty. The issue is more complicated, however, since the government is known to have supported some of the attacks in the past.
Routes through Pakistan have been closed before. The Pakistani government blocked the routes for seven months following US airstrikes that killed two dozen soldiers on the Afghan border in November 2011. Pakistan finally reopened the routes after the US apologised.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
December 10, 2013, 2:53 amWomen’s Voices Go Unheard Within Walls of Ahmedabad Ghetto
By RAKSHA KUMAR
AHMEDABAD, Gujarat — On a hot October morning, an intense discussion was waging between three women in a nondescript beauty salon in the Juhapura locality of Ahmedabad, the city’s largest Muslim ghetto.
While the most common topics of discussion in a beauty salon are fashion, cosmetics and men, here the women were discussing national politics, particularly the prospects of Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P.
“Modi should become India’s prime minister; let’s see what road the country takes then. Others will understand the pain we felt,” said Sageera Sheikh, 42, her eyes closed as her face was covered with a walnut scrub.
“What!” exclaimed Tasneem Aslam, 30, whose feet were soaking in warm water, just before her pedicure. “No way! I think the country should understand that he is a tyrant and won’t stop at anything to get his way.”
“Why are you all getting so emotional?” said 18-year-old Zeesha Khan, who was only 7 in 2002, when over 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed during riots while Mr. Modi was in power. “How does it matter who becomes the prime minister? Our state of affairs will remain the same.”
It’s a discussion that can be heard in many places in urban India, but for the women of Juhapura, this sort of informal participation in the political process is rare, as they have very few places where they can freely exchange their thoughts on non-household issues in their area. These opportunities for discussions are limited partly because of cultural pressure on women to avoid political topics, but also because the densely packed neighborhood simply has no room for their debates.
Many of the women who live here chafe at the constraints on their voices and the lack of outside interest, especially from politicians and lawmakers, in this Muslim neighborhood, which is walled off from the rest of Ahmedabad and bisected by a national highway.
Salma Khan, 26, who was one of the many women browsing in a local market, said she has keenly followed the politics of Juhapura ever since she moved into the neighborhood in 2003 from the Old City area of Ahmedabad. “I have an opinion on everything and everyone, but how does it matter? No one wants to hear us,” she said, her eyes welling up.
Juhapura used to be a desolate neighborhood in a western suburb of Ahmedabad, constructed for the victims of the 1973 flood in Gujarat’s capital. But after the 2002 riots in the state, Muslims from across Ahmedabad moved to Juhapura, which had become a Muslim neighborhood by then, changing it to an urbanized ghetto of almost 400,000 people, as big as about 10 football fields put together.
Away from the national highway, tiny houses, crammed up against each other, line the narrow, muddy streets of the second-biggest Muslim locality in India by population, after the old city of Hyderabad.
Twelve-feet-high walls surround Juhapura on all sides, defining its informal border. This border ensures that the interaction of people of Juhapura with the Hindu parts of Ahmedabad is limited. Some men step out for work and travel about seven or eight kilometers, or four or five miles, to the old part of Ahmedabad, which still houses a sizable Muslim population.
Since most women in Juhapura don’t work, they are confined within the walls of the ghetto.
“We live in this strange island, within Ahmedabad, and have little interaction with the outside world,” said Shakeera Imam, 56, another shopper at the market.
As such, politicians see no need to try to woo voters from this area – very few campaigners come out to Juhapura during election season. Several women said they don’t bother to vote at all now.
“Our level of disillusionment is quite high as you can imagine,” said Mrs. Imam. “We can never vote for the B.J.P. because of what they did to us in 2002. And we don’t want to vote for the Congress because they take us for granted. They know we do not have a choice but to vote for them. Gujarat has only two major parties, unfortunately.”
The women of Juhapura said they would welcome more public spaces, like parks or community halls, where they could speak freely about politics and other matters, but it’s a very low priority considering that the ghetto lacks basic government services like water and electricity, even though it is under the administration of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.
The crowded market serves as a more common venue for free-flowing female discussions. After the women finish their household chores at around noon, many step out into the market, where mobile stalls of vegetables, fruits, cheap clothes and plastic utensils are set up.
Here, some women chat with their friends and neighbors, mostly about their families. But on one visit, it took only a little effort to instigate a discussion on the availability of water in Juhapura, and the women who were busy shopping immediately stopped what they were doing so that they could chime in.
“Why does Juhapura not get enough water?” asked a young woman in a gray burqa, who asked to remain anonymous because she feared she would get in trouble for her question, which she then answered herself: “It is because the government has systematically kept this neighborhood from availing even the basic facilities.”
She added, indignantly, “If they don’t want us Muslims, why do they collect tax from us?”
As the women talked about politics, Shazia, 8, who was shopping with her mother, Zahra Mirza, was eyeing the colorful clothes on display. The girl, who was born in Juhapura, admitted she didn’t understand most of what was being said around her. “However, I know about the toofan,” she says. Toofan, meaning a powerful force of nature, is the euphemism that is commonly used for the religious riots of 2002.
The girl’s mother said that the main reason women are pressured to avoid all the political discussions in their house is to shield the children from uncomfortable subjects.
“I don’t think it is a nice idea to keep discussing uneasy topics like the riots,” said Mrs. Mirza. “In doing so, we might deepen the divide. And unfortunately for us, there is no political topic that excludes the riots.”
As the political discussion continued in the market, several men ventured in with their own opinions. When the women were asked why Juhapura was denied basic facilities, the men kept trying to answer the question for them, until a reporter explicitly asked them to stop.
A handful of educated women of the community are working to encourage women to speak up for themselves in the public domain, like Gulistan Bibi, a principal at a local primary school. She has been involved in social work for more than a decade, convening meetings at the Ahmedabad Muslim Women’s Association, a nonprofit based in Juhapura, and training women so that they can become self-employed.
“Everyone is scared to allow women to have their voice,” she said. “It will create fresh problems for the politicians if we begin protesting for our basic rights.”
The association has helped women like Tahira Shiekh become more aware of the world outside Juhapura’s walls. Mrs. Shiekh, 52, gets 1,500 rupees, or $25, every month from the association, with which she buys some thread and makes a living by sewing clothes.
She said she had no life beyond her husband and children, but she learned about next year’s national elections, the struggling Indian economy and Gujarat’s development outside Juhapura through some informal discussions at the women’s association.
However, when asked who she thought would be the next prime minister or anything about current events, she kept saying, “I don’t know.” At one point she suggested, “You should ask someone with more information or wait until my husband gets back.”
She didn’t have any confidence in her opinions, she said, because women like her didn’t feel free enough to venture out past Juhapura’s walls and had no exposure to the outside world.
“How will we shape our opinions? We have no opinions on any significant things,” she said.
Raksha Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Bangalore.
December 9, 2013India's Rape Problem, and How Men See It
By ANAND GIRIDHARADAS
NEW DELHI — “By force, it never happens,” Dharampal Singh Yadav declared of rape. He was standing with a gaggle of men at a barber stall outside the Sarojini Nagar market. Most of the men agreed.
One year ago, a fatal gang rape, in which a group of men on a bus repeatedly attacked a young physiotherapy student and shredded her internally with an iron rod, smeared this city’s name. That case and others stirred much national soul-searching. But the idea of rape as a physical impossibility is one of many myths about sexual violence that remain in common circulation among men in India. So is the notion that women are simultaneously victims and perpetrators of the rapes they endure.
“If anyone tried to rape my daughter, she would beat them with a shoe,” Mr. Yadav, a clerk in the market, said of his 15-year-old. “There’s no way any man could rape her.”
Just to be safe, though, Mr. Yadav, 45, has removed her from school back in their village. Otherwise, he said, how could he know what she was doing?
These presumptions and ways of talking about women can be found up and down Delhi’s class ladder. Consider the recent case of Tarun Tejpal, a muckraking crusader and newspaper editor who resigned after being accused of sexually assaulting a female subordinate. What the woman detailed in leaked correspondence as the forcible removal of her underwear and physical penetration was described by Mr. Tejpal as “drunken banter” — banter, like tango, being a thing that takes two.
To talk of rape with so many of Delhi’s men is to discover a chasm between the world of their minds, flush with medieval ideas of womankind, and the world of the modernizing megacity in which they find themselves. In fact, many men — including those at the barber stall that day — attribute the rape problem to vertiginous social change that has created new temptations at a faster rate than the new habits to cope with them.
The barber put it simply: Rape isn’t a man’s fault. “It’s the fault of the times,” he said.
He said that rape was the result of poor choices made by women. “Wearing the wrong kind of clothes, eating the wrong kind of food, going to the wrong kind of places,” he said.
It is a familiar notion, here and elsewhere, that women entrance men into rape by wearing particularly cute skirts. Men will be men, the argument goes, which apparently means that men will be rapists. The barber gave a metaphor: “Where there’s a candle and a fire together, the candle will melt.” He added: “The fire is always the girl. The candle is the boy.”
A young boy of 10 named Durgesh was standing around, waiting on his father’s haircut. His face wore sadness, and it emerged that his sister, Ratna, was locked in juvenile jail. She, too, was cast as modernity’s victim. She got a job, which led to taking a loan, which led to buying a cellphone, which led to plans with strange friends, which led to alcohol, which led to sniffing intoxicants on fabric, which led to jail.
When Ratna gets out next year, Durgesh wants her rusticated to the family’s ancestral village, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. “Otherwise,” he said, “she’ll get spoiled again.”
As the men spoke, a bit of feminism flared. Mr. Yadav was talking about removing his daughter from school when a male passer-by, wearing a sweater inscribed with the words “Two plus three equals 5,” burst forth, exclaiming: “That is not right!”
But Mr. Yadav barreled on. What really happens, he said, is that women trade sex for money to acquire nice clothes. When their mothers find out and confront them, they call what happened rape, to protect their honor.
“If the parents have only 10 rupees, and your daughter is wearing 100-rupee clothes, where is she getting those clothes?” Mr. Yadav said. Many of the men nodded. He wasn’t alone in assuming that most women are a couple of coveted outfits away from prostitution.
The man in the mathematical sweater was persuaded. “Who am I to judge?” he said now. He who had stood up for women just as quickly stood down.
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Thai protests continue despite PM's concessions
Opponents reject call for general election and want an unelected 'people's council', raising fears for democracy
Reuters in Bangkok
theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 December 2013 08.55 GMT
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra tearfully pleaded for anti-government demonstrators to clear the streets on Tuesday and support a snap election, but defiant protest leaders called for her to step down within 24 hours.
After weeks of sometimes violent street rallies, protesters rejected her call on Monday for a general election and said she should be replaced by an unelected "people's council", a proposal that has stoked concern that south-east Asia's second-biggest economy may abandon democracy.
Yingluck said she would continue her duties as caretaker prime minister until the election, which is set for 2 February.
On Tuesday she held a cabinet meeting at an army club.
"Now that the government has dissolved parliament, I ask that you stop protesting and that all sides work towards elections," Yingluck told reporters as she went in.
"I have backed down to the point where I don't know how to back down any further."
Tears briefly formed in her eyes as she spoke, before she quickly composed herself.
Yingluck, a 46-year-old former businesswoman, had no political experience before entering a 2011 election that she won by a landslide, largely on the back of rural support.
The protesters – a diverse collection aligned with Bangkok's royalist elite – want to oust Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and has chosen to live in exile rather than serve a jail term for abuse of power.
This is the latest flare-up in almost a decade of rivalry between forces aligned with the Bangkok-based establishment and those who support Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who won huge support in the countryside with policies designed to help the poor.
An estimated 3,000 protesters camped out overnight around Government House, where Yingluck has her office, a day after 160,000 protesters converged peacefully on the complex.
They made no attempt to get into the grounds, which appeared to be defended by unarmed police and soldiers. The crowd could swell again on Tuesday, a public holiday in Thailand for Constitution Day.
Yingluck's Puea Thai party enjoys widespread support in the populous north and northeast, Thailand's poorest regions. She will be its candidate for prime minister if the party wins in February, a party official said.
In contrast, the protesters are drawn from Bangkok's upper and middle classes, including civil servants and prominent business families, along with people from the south where the opposition Democrat party has long held sway.
The spark for this latest unrest was a government bid last month to force through an amnesty bill that would have expunged Thaksin's conviction, allowing him to return home a free man. He is widely seen as the power behind his sister's government.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban's overriding aim is to get rid of what he calls the "Thaksin regime" - the extended family's influence on politics but also the people placed in senior positions in state agencies and the police who are believed to answer to him.
The protest movement, he told supporters on Monday, "cannot allow political tyranny, under the guise of majority rule, and crony, monopolistic capitalism to collude to use parliamentary dictatorship to betray the trust of the people".
In a late-night speech to supporters at Government House on Monday, Suthep gave Yingluck 24 hours to step down.
"We want the government to step aside and create a power vacuum in order to create a people's council," said Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for the protest group. Suthep has said this council would be made up of appointed "good people".
Lawmakers from the Democrat party resigned from parliament on Sunday, saying they could not work with Yingluck.
Its leaders have refused to say whether they would participate in the election. Some have marched with Suthep, including Abhisit Vejjajiva, prime minister until the 2011 election, with Suthep as one of his deputies.
Suthep's campaign opens up the prospect of a minority of Thailand's 66 million people dislodging a democratically elected leader, this time without help from the military, unlike when Thaksin was deposed.
The politically powerful army, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, has said it does not want to get involved, although it has tried to mediate.
Chinese anti-corruption activist may face charges
Beijing police call for civil rights campaigner Xu Zhiyong to be prosecuted after he urged officials to disclose their wealth
Reuters in Beijing
theguardian.com, Monday 9 December 2013 13.01 GMT
Beijing police have recommended that state prosecutors bring charges against an anti-corruption activist campaigning for Chinese officials to reveal their wealth, saying he broke the law by organising demonstrations, lawyers have said.
Xu Zhiyong, who has also pushed for greater civil rights, was formally arrested in August in a case that has exposed shortcomings in the government's drive against deep-rooted corruption. Western governments have sparred repeatedly with Beijing over human rights and both the US and European Union have expressed concern about Xu's case.
Xu, founder of the "New Citizens' Movement", advocates working within the system to press for change. He had called on officials online to disclose their assets and fellow activists have gone into the streets to urge citizens to fight corruption.
In a letter of recommendation that Xu be prosecuted, Beijing police said he organised activities during which he hung banners in public calling for asset disclosure and equal access to education.
Xu has also campaigned for the right of children from rural areas, who lack the correct residence paperwork, to be educated in cities, where many live with their migrant worker parents.
Police said Xu's activities "created serious disturbances in public order in public places" and that he interfered with the work of public security officials, according to the document. Beijing police did not respond to a request for comment.
"This represents the opinion of the public security authorities. Usually, the prosecutors will not make any changes, or just a few small ones," said Si Weijiang, a lawyer who was initially hired as counsel but then not allowed to represent Xu. Si said it could be at least another month before the official letter of indictment is issued, and only after that would there be a trial.
Zhang Qingfang, a lawyer who has been allowed to represent Xu, said the trial could be six months away. "Right now it's difficult to say," he said.
China has detained at least 16 activists in the asset disclosure campaign, in what rights groups say is the new leadership's first crackdown on anti-corruption campaigners. Three of the activists went on trial last week in the poor southern province of Jiangxi.
Xi Jinping's appointment as Communist party chief in a once-in-a-decade leadership change last November had inspired many Chinese with hope for political reform, spurring citizens nationwide to push for the asset disclosures.
But the detentions suggest the Communist party will not tolerate any open challenge to its rule, despite the claims of greater transparency.
Xu has long been a thorn in the government's side. In 2009, he was briefly arrested on tax evasion charges which his defenders said were trumped up in an attempt to stifle his work. The charges were dropped after a public furore.
Chinese authorities increase pressure on foreign correspondents
Monday 9 December 2013 08.54 GMT theguardian.com
International journalists working in China complain that the Beijing authorities are making life difficult for them, sometimes making it impossible for them to do their work.
Visas are being delayed or denied. Reporters are finding it increasingly difficult to conduct interviews because people who speak to them suffer from police intimidation.
The authorities have also demanded that journalists obtain special permission to film or report in a number of locations designated as politically sensitive.
These restrictions and "negative trends" are an apparent effort to influence editorial coverage, according to the year-end statement by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC).
It cites several examples of visa problems. For example, correspondents for the New York Times and Bloomberg have not been able to renew their annual residence visas, which have been subject to unusual and unexplained delays.
Since the NY Times carried articles about the finances of a senior Chinese leader last year, it has also been unable to secure resident journalist visas for either its bureau chief, Philip Pan, who has been waiting for over 18 months, or correspondent Chris Buckley, who has been in Hong Kong awaiting a visa for a year.
Paul Mooney, a veteran correspondent known for his reporting on human rights issues, was denied the visa that would have allowed him to take a job in Beijing for Reuters.
Melissa Chan, Al-Jazeera's English language service correspondent, was denied a visa in May 2012 and effectively expelled.
The FCCC statement says:
"The authorities have given no public explanation for their actions, leading to the impression that they have been taken in reprisal for reporting that displeased the government.
Chinese officials have said that foreign media in China must abide by Chinese laws and regulations, but they have never explained which laws and regulations Pan, Buckley, Mooney and Chan, or their employers, are said to have violated."
These complaints were aired last Thursday by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, during a visit to Beijing to meet the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, who told him China treated reporters according to the law.
But the FCCC points out that new rules mean that the police can take 15 business days (three weeks) to process visa applications. During that period, reporters cannot leave the country, making the work of those responsible for Asian regional coverage unnecessarily difficult.
Then there are the problems over interviews. "The key rule governing foreign journalists in China – that they need only obtain the consent of their interviewees for an interview to be legal – has been progressively weakened in practice," says the FCCC.
The authorities have decided that certain places, such as Tiananmen Square or scenes of social unrest, are not covered by the rule. Elsewhere in China, local officials often demand that employers must approve interview requests involving their workers.
"We are aware of a number of cases in which Chinese citizens have been intimidated by police or local officials, or instructed not to grant interviews to foreign correspondents," says the statement.
It also claims that the police and security services officials continue to apply pressure on Chinese citizens who act as assistants to foreign correspondents: "This takes the form of requests for information about correspondents' activities, threats and general harassment."
The co-ordinated nature of this pressure is evident from the fact that, on two occasion during the year, Chinese embassy staff in foreign capitals contacted the headquarters of foreign media to complain about the coverage by their China-based correspondents.
They have demanded that their reports be removed from their websites and suggesting that they produce more positive Chinese coverage.
The FCCC statement concludes: "The Chinese authorities have repeatedly said that they are keen to improve foreign reporters' working conditions. We eagerly await the fruits of their efforts."
December 9, 2013
Public Ouster in North Korea Unsettles China
By JANE PERLEZ and CHOE SANG-HUN
BEIJING — North Koreans had long known Jang Song-thaek as the No. 2 figure in their country, the revered uncle and mentor of Kim Jong-un, the paramount leader. Then on Monday state-run television showed two green-uniformed guards clutching a glum-looking Mr. Jang by the armpits and pulling him from a meeting of the ruling party after he was denounced for faction-building, womanizing, gambling and other acts as dozens of former comrades watched.
The spectacle of Mr. Jang’s humiliating dismissal and arrest was a highly unusual glimpse of a power struggle unfolding inside the nuclear-armed country. But the major impact may be outside, and nowhere is the downfall more unnerving than in China.
North Korea’s longtime protector and economic lifeline, China has considered strategically close relations with North Korea a pillar of foreign policy and a bulwark against the United States military presence in South Korea. Despite Chinese irritation with North Korea’s nuclear tests and other bellicose behavior, China had built a good relationship with Mr. Jang as the trusted adult who would monitor Mr. Kim, who is less than half his age.
Any shift by China concerning North Korea has the potential to significantly alter the political equilibrium in Asia, where the divided Korean Peninsula has been a fact of life for more than 60 years. While there is no indication that the Chinese intend to change their view, it seemed clear that even Beijing’s top leaders were surprised by Mr. Jang’s abrupt downfall on Sunday, and even more on Monday by the North Korean state television broadcast.
“Jang was a very iconic figure in North Korea, particularly with economic reform and innovation,” said Zhu Feng, professor of international relations at Peking University, and a specialist in North Korea. “He is the man China counted on to move the economy in North Korea. This is a very ominous signal.”
Mr. Jang’s dismissal was a shock not only because he had long been considered a core member of the country’s ruling elite and a regent and confidant of Mr. Kim, who assumed power only two years ago upon the death of his father, Kim Jong-il. The way that Mr. Jang was dismissed also was considered extraordinary, as the North Korea government has almost always maintained secrecy over its inner workings, power struggles and skulduggery during the more than six decades of rule by the Kim family.
“Kim Jong-un was declaring at home and abroad that he is now the truly one and only leader in the North, that he will not tolerate a No. 2,” said Yang Moo-jin, an analyst at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, South Korea.
Mr. Jang had visited China on a number of occasions and had been considered the most important advocate of the Chinese style of economic overhaul that the government in Beijing has been urging North Korea to embrace.
At 67, Mr. Jang is of the same generation as China’s leaders. Unlike the 30-year-old Mr. Kim — who has not been to China and who remains a mystery despite the lineage to his grandfather Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s revolutionary founder — Mr. Jang was seen by Beijing as a steady hand and a trusted conduit into North Korea’s top leadership. He was one of China’s few high-level North Korean interlocutors.
That the video of Mr. Jang’s arrest on Sunday at a Politburo meeting by military officers was released to the North Korean public, replete with tearful underlings shown denouncing him, was particularly unsettling for China.
Mr. Jang went to Beijing in August 2012 for a six-day visit and met with President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Special economic zones, where Chinese and other foreign investors would get preferential treatment in North Korea, were high on the agenda.
Just last month North Korea’s official media announced that 14 new special economic zones would be opened, and although they were relatively small, they were seen as a sign of fruition of some of the reforms China has advocated.
“Those zones were a consequence of Jang’s efforts,” Dr. Zhu said. “It’s possible Jang went too far on decentralizing and that threatened Kim Jong-un’s position.”
China’s official media gave prominent attention to the accusations against Mr. Jang, including some of the florid language used in North Korea’s own state-run news media that recited the litany of his newly disclosed transgressions at party expense: womanizing, gambling, drug abuse, “wining and dining at back parlors of deluxe restaurants” and, perhaps most important, a politically motivated ambition to challenge Mr. Kim as the “unitary center.”
But also among the crimes that Mr. Jang was said to have committed was selling resources cheaply, an accusation that appears to have been aimed directly at China, the biggest buyer of North Korea’s iron ore and minerals.
Soon after assuming power, Mr. Kim complained that North Korea’s resources, one of its few sources of outside income, were being sold too cheaply. He demanded higher prices for minerals, rare earths and coal, exported by the growing number of joint ventures between China and North Korea.
Mr. Kim’s complaints were widely reported in China and angered bargain-conscious Chinese mine operators, several of whom abandoned their North Korean operations.
Now, the climate for Chinese investment in North Korea, which was not particularly good, would be likely to worsen, said Andrei Lankov, author of “The Real North Korea” and professor of history at Kookmin University in Seoul.
China’s Foreign Ministry offered restrained comments on Monday regarding Mr. Jang’s dismissal, calling it an internal affair of North Korea.
“We will stay committed to promoting the traditional friendly, cooperative relationship” between China and North Korea, said the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei.
Mr. Jang’s demotion raised the possibility of further instability in North Korea at a time when China is already confronting increased tensions with two of its other North Asian neighbors, Japan and South Korea.
An overriding fear of China’s is the collapse of the government in North Korea, an ally dating to the Korean War, which could lead to the reunification of the Korean Peninsula under a government in South Korea allied with the United States.
“China worries about instability which might be provoked by such acts” as Mr. Jang’s dismissal, Mr. Lankov said.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at Sejong Institute in South Korea, said the dismissal could signal more internal strife. “Given the extremely harsh stance against Jang and his followers,” he said, “a round of bloody purges will be inevitable as the regime roots out poisonous weeds from its leadership ranks.”
Another concern for China was the question of whether Mr. Kim would conduct a new nuclear test, said Roger Cavazos, an American expert on North Korea, who is currently visiting Shanghai.
In February, in an act of open defiance to the Chinese, Mr. Kim authorized the country’s third nuclear test. The Chinese had urged the new North Korean leader not to risk open confrontation with the United States by detonating the weapon. Shortly afterward, in a rare public criticism, China’s new president, Xi Jinping, accused North Korea of creating regional instability for “selfish gains.”
“Every Chinese I have spoken with were worried that Kim Jong-un would test soon,” said Mr. Cavazos, a former United States Army intelligence officer who is now at the Nautilus Institute, a group that studies international security.
Mr. Cavazos said Chinese academics were concerned that Mr. Kim was “more and more out of control.” He added, “Every nuclear test by North Korea puts China in a bad position.”
That is in large part because as North Korea gets closer to demonstrating that it can miniaturize a nuclear weapon to fit atop a missile, the more the United States will increase its missile defenses in Northeast Asia.
As Mr. Kim rearranged the top echelons of the government, it was possible that the military would emerge the winner, said Cai Jian, deputy director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. It was most likely that “the military forces will become stronger” and that the “hard-liners will become more hard-line.”
Mr. Cavazos agreed. “The military was demonstrating its loyalty to Kim Jong-un, and Kim Jong-un was demonstrating his loyalty to the military.”
Jane Perlez reported from Beijing, and Choe Sang-hun from Seoul, South Korea. Bree Feng contributed research from Beijing.
December 10, 2013
World Leaders Extol Mandela Before a Crowd of Thousands
By LYDIA POLGREEN, NICHOLAS KULISH and ALAN COWELL
SOWETO, South Africa — In an outpouring of praise, remembrance and celebration, scores of leaders from around the world, including President Obama, joined tens of thousands of South Africans in a vast rain-swept soccer stadium here on Tuesday to pay common tribute to Nelson Mandela, whose struggle against apartheid inspired his own country and many far beyond its borders.
Huge cheers greeted Mr. Obama as he rose to offer a eulogy that blended a deep personal message with a broader appeal for Mr. Mandela’s values to survive him.
“To the people of South Africa — people of every race and every walk of life — the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us,” the president said. “His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.”
“It is hard to eulogize any man — to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person — their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul,” Mr. Obama said. “How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.”
He added: “He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood — a son and husband, a father and a friend. That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; and persistence and faith. He tells us what’s possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.”
With his address punctuated by applause, Mr. Obama used Mr. Mandela’s clan name to say: “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.”
Without identifying anyone by name, Mr. Obama also seemed to criticize despots around the world. “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people,” he said. “We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world — you can make his life’s work your own.”
Striking a deeply personal note, he went on: “Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities — to others, and to myself — and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us.”
People arriving for the ceremony reached for umbrellas and raincoats as a downpour drenched the stadium and the streets outside. While the mood was celebratory, South Africa’s modern politics also intruded.
There were cheers for Thabo Mbeki, Mr. Mandela’s immediate successor. But the crowd booed and whistled with displeasure when President Jacob G. Zuma’s face appeared on the two large monitors at either end of the stadium.
Mr. Zuma struggled against a barrage of boos, hoots and whistles as he approached the lectern to deliver his remarks. A traditional praise singer sought to enthuse crowd before the South African leader spoke. But the abuse continued, and Mr. Zuma’s face on the huge screens was soon replaced with images of Mr. Mandela as music blasted through the speakers.
After a few minutes, Mr. Zuma began delivering his remarks to a restive but quieting crowd. Many began leaving the stadium, streaming down concrete ramps and into the relentless rain.
Reading from prepared remarks, Mr. Zuma praised Mr. Mandela, saying “there is no one like Madiba. He was one of a kind.”
But, seeking a second term in national elections next April, Mr. Zuma emphasized that Mr. Mandela’s party, the African National Congress, was not about any one leader.
“Mandela believed in collective leadership,” Mr. Zuma said. “He never wanted to be viewed as a messiah or a saint. He recognized that all of his achievements were a result of working with the A.N.C. collective.”
Tuesday’s ceremony drew an unprecedented crowd of global V.I.P.'s, including at least 91 heads of state and government, celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and the singer Bono as well as royalty. The period of official mourning is scheduled to continue this week, with Mr. Mandela’s body lying in state for three days in Pretoria, and a state funeral on Sunday in his remote boyhood village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape region.
Such was the range of those who supported Mr. Mandela in death as in life that the phalanx of dignitaries included notables from Europe to Latin America and China.
In a gesture sure to be dissected for its symbolic and political significance, Mr. Obama shook hands with President Raúl Castro of Cuba, the brother of the longtime American adversary Fidel Castro. Relations between the two countries have been less frosty of late but the Castro brothers remain divisive figures for many Americans, especially Cuban-Americans in Florida.
Some focused on the less celebrated mourners instead.
“This is a day for the people, not the powerful,” said Jay Naidoo, a close confidant of Mr. Mandela and one of his early government ministers. “What Nelson Mandela stood for most of all was solidarity with the downtrodden of the world, and for them he is a symbol of social justice and human rights. That is why I am saying my goodbye from the ranks of the people.”
Shortly before the scheduled start, the stadium was roughly half full, with most people crowding into the highest areas under a roof to shelter from the rain. “Even heaven is crying,” one woman in the crowd declared. “We have lost an angel.”
Many made long journeys, by bus and by train, to reach the stadium. Others gave up waiting for buses that they said never came and instead began the long slog in the rain to the stadium.
In spite of the memorial service, the day was not a holiday and at train stations on the outskirts of Johannesburg most people were going to work as if it were a normal Tuesday. Still, people continued to arrive, bowed against the hard, slanting rain.
As the formal starting time was delayed by about an hour, family members began to arrive, including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mr. Mandela’s former wife, and his widow, Graça Machel. President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe was among many African leaders, including those of Nigeria, Uganda, both Congo states and Equatorial Guinea.
The American representation included three former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush accompanied their husbands.
Britain and France were both represented by current and former leaders. The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, rose and bowed on the V.I.P. podium to acknowledge applause from the crowd.
Cyril Ramaphosa, a former labor leader who became a wealthy entrepreneur and, more recently, deputy leader of the governing African National Congress, presided over the ceremony, just as he played a central role when Mr. Mandela was released after 27 years in prison in 1990.
“His long walk is over,” Mr. Ramaphosa declared, referring to “Long Walk to Freedom,” the title of Mr. Mandela’s autobiography. “But ours is only beginning.”
“More than 100 countries are represented here today representing easily billions of people around the world,” Mr. Ramaphosa said, adding that the event was “how Nelson Mandela would have wanted to be sent off.”
“He was our teacher and our mentor and never gave up on us for our failures,” Mr. Ramaphosa said. Repeatedly Mr. Ramaphosa appealed to some in the crowd to stop booing political figures of whom they did not approve.
The national memorial service came 20 years to the day after Mr. Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, who negotiated the demise of Afrikaner power, traveled together to Oslo to receive a shared Nobel Peace Prize. Mr. de Klerk was among the dignitaries arriving at the stadium on Tuesday for the event along with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain.
President François Hollande of France planned to travel on from the ceremony to the Central African Republic, where his country has sent troop reinforcements to try to quell unrest, news reports said.
Lydia Polgreen and Nicholas Kulish reported from Soweto, South Africa, and Alan Cowell from London.
US presidents travel together to Mandela funeral
Obama, Bush, their wives and Hillary Clinton all flew in Air Force One, raising tricky issues of etiquette on board
Reuters in Dakar
theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 December 2013 12.05 GMT
Air Force One arrived in South Africa for Nelson Mandela's funeral carrying not only President Barack Obama and the first lady, Michelle, but also a former president, George W Bush, his wife, Laura, and a possible future president, Hillary Clinton.
With American presidents accustomed to having the plane to themselves, etiquette was tricky. Officials said that for the long flight from Washington, Obama kept his usual quarters in the front of the plane, while the medical unit cabin was transformed into the Bushes' quarters. Clinton stayed in the senior staff cabin.
Obama spoke on Tuesday at the memorial service in the 80,000-seat soccer stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg, where more than 70 leaders from around the world gathered to commemorate the life of Mandela, who died on Thursday aged 95. The large delegation from the US was a designed as a high-profile display of American respect for the man who vanquished white minority rule in South Africa.
After getting stuck in traffic, the Obamas were finally seated nearly two hours after the ceremony began. The fact that Democratic and Republican leaders joined together for the South Africa trip underscored the importance of Mandela's life and legacy, said Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist at Towson University in Maryland who studies the presidency.
"It puts a … stamp on the importance that the United States thought of Mandela, his importance as a world leader," Kumar said.
Air Force One stopped in Senegal's capital, Dakar, to refuel on its way to South Africa. On the flight, the three families sat in a conference room towards the front of the plane, chatting to each other at a large round table.
It was Bush's first flight on Air Force One since handing power to Obama in 2009 and it was the most time he had spent in close proximity to Obama since returning to Dallas after he left the White House.
Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton made their own way to South Africa. Logistical issues prevented them from flying together.
Presidential travel usually requires weeks of preparation. Preliminary work probably started a while ago as authorities would have recognised the gravity of Mandela's illness, said Ralph Basham, former Secret Service director.
When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr attended the funeral.
"Where it's really challenging is when a death and a funeral is unexpected," Basham said. When President Anwar Sadat of Egypt was assassinated in 1981, the Secret Service decided it was too dangerous for the president and vice-president to attend the funeral, so former presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Carter went instead, he said.
"That was a real challenge because of the unusual situation there and not knowing who you could trust," said Basham, who was lead Secret Service agent for Sadat's funeral.
But the situation in South Africa is different. "You're dealing with a sophisticated group of people in South Africa who have excellent law enforcement and military capabilities," said Basham.
"They recognise that it would be an international catastrophe if something were to happen during these events."
A Secret Service spokesman declined to comment on specific security measures for the South Africa trip.
In June, Obama took his family to see the Robben Island prison cell where Mandela had been held, a "powerful experience" that Obama reflected upon as he crafted his remarks for the memorial service, said Ben Rhodes, deputy White House national security adviser.
Obama will probably meet informally with the South African president, Jacob Zuma, at the memorial, aides said, and will try to meet Mandela's widow, Graça Machel, and some family members to pay his respects, if time allows.
The US also plans to send a delegation to Mandela's burial on Sunday in Qunu, his ancestral home.
In Washington, the vice-president, Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill, signed a book of condolence on behalf of the American people at the South African embassy. Biden wrote: "Mandela's head and heart lifted a nation to freedom. We will continue to keep his spirit alive and strive to live by his example."
Obama shakes hands with Raul Castro for first time at Mandela memorial
• Historic handshake between US and Cuban presidents
• Obama urges world leaders to follow Mandela's example
theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 December 2013 13.47 GMT
Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa. Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban president Raul Castro during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Barack Obama celebrated the life of Nelson Mandela with his own gesture of reconciliation at Tuesday's memorial ceremony in Soweto: a historic handshake with Cuban leader Raul Castro.
It was the first such greeting in public involving a president of the United States since the Cuban revolution, although Bill Clinton shook hands in private with Raul's brother Fidel during a closed-door United Nations lunch in 2000.
Though initially unclear whether Obama and Raul Castro's meeting was orchestrated or happened by chance, the symbolism of the moment helped set the mood for the unprecedented gathering of world leaders.
Obama also shook hands with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who cancelled a recent trip to the US amid anger over revelations that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on her phone calls.
The US president appeared to address parts of his 15-minute eulogy to his fellow world leaders, calling on them to complete Mandela's peacemaking work. “The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important,” he said.
President Barack Obama speaks to crowds attending the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela. President Barack Obama speaks to crowds attending the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP
“Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.”
The controversial handshake with Castro is likely to dominate headlines back home in the US, where many conservatives fear the White House is preparing a broader rapprochement with communist leaders in Havana, but Obama's surprisingly political speech also included veiled criticism of dictatorships that neglect human rights and conservatives who ignore inequality.
“There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people,” he said.
“There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”
Obama also elaborated on brief remarks he gave on the day of Mandela's death that described his own inspiration from the liberation struggle in South Africa.
“Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this beautiful land,” said Obama. “It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man.”
Obama's eulogy to the rain-lashed Johannesburg stadium was at times nearly drowned out by cheering and delayed by heavy traffic, but the president, accompanied by his wife and presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton, used it to point out South Africa's historic parallels with the US.
“We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation,“ he said. “As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people – known and unknown – to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done.”
Barack Obama's address at Nelson Mandela's memorial service – in full
Read the US president's remarks at the memorial service in Soweto to the former president of South Africa
theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 December 2013 11.51 GMT
To Graça Machel and the Mandela family; to President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of state and government, past and present; distinguished guests - it is a singular honour to be with you today, to celebrate a life unlike any other. To the people of South Africa – people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.
It is hard to eulogise any man – to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person – their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone's soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.
Born during world war one, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe – Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century. Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement – a movement that at its start held little prospect of success. Like King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed, and the moral necessity of racial justice. He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War. Emerging from prison, without force of arms, he would – like Lincoln – hold his country together when it threatened to break apart. Like America's founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations – a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.
Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men. But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. "I'm not a saint," he said, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."
It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection – because he could be so full of good humour, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and husband, a father and a friend. That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what's possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.
Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, "a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness" from his father. Certainly he shared with millions of black and coloured South Africans the anger born of, "a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments … a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people".
But like other early giants of the ANC – the Sisulus and Tambos – Madiba disciplined his anger; and channelled his desire to fight into organisation, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand-up for their dignity. Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price. "I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination," he said at his 1964 trial. "I've cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don't. He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper's bullet. He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and passion, but also his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.
Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiselled into laws and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that, "prisoners cannot enter into contracts". But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. And because he was not only a leader of a movement, but a skilful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy; true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.
Finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this was innate in him, or how much of was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small - introducing his jailors as honoured guests at his inauguration; taking the pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family's heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS – that revealed the depth of his empathy and understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions to find that truth within themselves. It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.
For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe – Madiba's passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate his heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life?
It is a question I ask myself – as a man and as a president. We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people - known and unknown - to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done. The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger, and disease; run-down schools, and few prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.
We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
The questions we face today – how to promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end conflict and sectarian war – do not have easy answers. But there were no easy answers in front of that child in Qunu. Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows us that is true. South Africa shows us we can change. We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.
We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world - you can make his life's work your own. Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities - to others, and to myself - and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us. After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength - for his largeness of spirit - somewhere inside ourselves. And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach - think of Madiba, and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
What a great soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela. May God bless the people of South Africa.
French soldiers killed in Central African Republic
Two soldiers killed in clash in Bangui as French and African Union operation to disarm militia continues
Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 December 2013 14.38 GMT
Two French soldiers have been killed in the Central African Republic after clashing with militia forces they had ordered to disarm.
After being told of the deaths, President François Hollande announced he would fly directly from Nelson Mandela's funeral to Bangui, the capital, where around 1,600 French troops have been deployed alongside 2,500 African Union forces to try to stop the bloodshed between religious factions and restore order.
The two men, from the 8th Regiment of Marine Infantry Parachutists, based at Castres in southern France, were part of a team inspecting a neighbourhood 1,200 metres east of Bangui's airport close to midnight on Monday, in preparation for a disarmament operation, French military spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said in Paris.
Five to 10 gunmen opened fire on the French patrol, which returned fire, he said. Two Frenchmen were wounded and taken to the hospital where they died. It was unclear whether anyone else died in the clash.
In a statement, Hollande's office praised their bravery and said the men, who died five days into Operation Sangaris, had "lost their lives to save many others".
Tensions flared again on Tuesday as a mob of young men set fire to a mosque in the Fou neighbourhood of Bangui. Smoke billowed from smouldering vehicles nearby, and young men used pick axes and whatever tools they could find to try to tear down the walls of the mosque.
French troops were sent to the CAR after being given the go-ahead by the United Nations security council on Thursday, following a series of massacres that left more than 450 people dead, many of them women and children.
They began disarming former rebels and militia who had carried out a series of bloody reprisals over recent weeks and sown terror among the population of the CAR, especially in the capital.
Members of the Séléka, a mostly Muslim coalition, as well as other armed groups, had been given an ultimatum to return to their bases and hand over their weapons.
In a statement, the Elysée presidential palace said: "The president of the republic has learned with profound sadness the deaths in combat of the two soldiers … the head of state expresses his profound respect for the sacrifice of these two soldiers and renews his full confidence in the French forces deployed, alongside the African forces, to re-establish security in the Central African Republic, to protect the population, and to guarantee access to humanitarian aid."
Kuwait opposition members acquitted over 2011 storming of parliament
Nine former parliamentarians among 70 acquitted of charges relating to storming over allegations of high-level corruption
Associated Press in Kuwait City
theguardian.com, Monday 9 December 2013 17.00 GMT
A Kuwaiti court has acquitted 70 members of the country's opposition, including several former lawmakers, of charges related to the 2011 storming of the parliament in the oil-rich nation.
Kuwait, a longtime US ally and Opec member state, stands out among the Gulf Arab states for its robust political culture. Although the western-backed emir controls all key government posts and policies, Kuwait's parliament has the most powers of any elected body among the Gulf monarchies, and opposition lawmakers have openly criticised the ruling family.
Mohammad al-Jassim, a lawyer for the defence team, hailed Monday's verdict as a political "turning point" for Kuwait.
"We hope that this reignites the opposition and helps reunite them," he said.
At least nine former members of parliament were among the 70 people acquitted.
The storming of the parliament on 16 November 2011 by demonstrators angry over allegations of high-level corruption rattled Kuwait's leadership, prompting authorities to tighten security measures across the country.
Opposition lawmakers at the time were trying to bring the country's then-prime minister, Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, in for questioning over alleged financial wrongdoing. The emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, replaced Nasser, dissolved parliament and called for fresh elections in the weeks that followed the storming.
Kuwait, where thousands of US soldiers are based, has faced political unrest in recent years as an Islamist-led opposition stepped up pressure on the ruling al-Sabah family over allegations of fiscal mismanagement and corruption as well as efforts to police social media.
December 9, 2013
A Rare Middle East Agreement, on Water
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — In a rare display of regional cooperation, representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement on Monday to build a Red Sea-Dead Sea water project that is meant to benefit all three parties.
The project addresses two problems: the acute shortage of clean fresh water in the region, especially in Jordan, and the rapid contraction of the Dead Sea. A new desalination plant is to be built in Aqaba, Jordan, to convert salt water from the Red Sea into fresh water for use in southern Israel and southern Jordan — each would get eight billion to 13 billion gallons a year. The process produces about the same amount of brine as a waste product; the brine would be piped more than 100 miles to help replenish the already very saline Dead Sea.
Under the agreement, Israel will also provide Amman, the Jordanian capital, with eight billion to 13 billion gallons of fresh water from the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, and the Palestinians expect to be able to buy up to eight billion gallons of additional fresh water from Israel at preferential prices.
The agreement was signed at the Washington headquarters of the World Bank, a sponsor of the project.
The water level in the Dead Sea, an ancient salt lake whose shores are the lowest dry places on the earth’s surface, has been dropping by more than three feet a year, mainly because most of the water in the Jordan River, its main feeder, has been diverted by Israel, Jordan or Syria for domestic use and irrigation; very little now reaches the lake. Potash industries on either side of the lake have also had a detrimental impact. About 25 miles of the Dead Sea’s shoreline lie in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and are claimed by the Palestinians as part of a future state.
Israeli officials said that proposals would soon be solicited internationally from private companies to build and operate a desalination plant in Aqaba, which is meant to operate on a commercial basis, selling the potable water to Jordan and Israel. A brine pipeline to the Dead Sea, estimated to cost at least $240 million, would be financed by donor countries and organizations, with the World Bank providing a bridge loan.
The brine pipeline will run through Jordanian territory, because the planning process in Jordan is quicker and less liable to be slowed by the objections of environmentalists and other opponents, according to Israeli officials. They said that the added brine’s effects on the Dead Sea would be carefully monitored.
The project has been discussed and studied in various forms for 20 years. Speaking on Israeli Army Radio on Monday, Silvan Shalom, the Israeli cabinet minister responsible for water projects and for regional cooperation, called the agreement “historic.” But critics said it was far less ambitious than an earlier proposal for a canal that would also exploit the altitude difference between the Red and Dead Seas to generate hydroelectricity.
Regional tensions also manifested themselves. Shaddad Attili, the head of the Palestinian Water Authority, said the agreement was essentially one between Israel and Jordan, with the Palestinian Authority involved because it shares part of the Dead Sea coastline. “We gave our support to Jordan,” he said.
Speaking by telephone from the United States before the signing ceremony, Mr. Attili said the brine from the plant would have to be taken north to the Dead Sea because draining it back into the Red Sea would upset Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Mr. Attili signed the agreement in Washington on behalf of the authority; Mr. Shalom signed for Israel; and Hazim el-Naser, the Jordanian minister for water and irrigation, signed for Jordan.
Yaakov Garb, an Israeli environmental and social studies expert at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said that he suspected that the project was mainly motivated by a geopolitical desire to support Jordan, but that it was “wrapped up in ‘Saving the Dead Sea’ clothing” in order to attract international financing. He said it was often difficult to discern the true forces behind such major projects.
Friends of the Earth Middle East, a regional organization, expressed concern over the environmental impact of releasing brine into the Dead Sea. The organization’s Jordanian director, Munqeth Mehyar, said in a statement, “What is being signed today is a conventional desalination project, albeit with a regional perspective.”
Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, but their relationship has generally remained low profile. Israel and the Palestinians are currently engaged in a round of peace talks, but they are taking place in an atmosphere of rancor and mutual recrimination.
December 9, 2013
Israel to Allow Building Materials Into Gaza
By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM — Under pressure from the United Nations amid a mounting economic and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Israel has agreed to restart the transfer of construction materials to Gaza on Tuesday after an eight-week hiatus.
But the building supplies will be allowed in only for United Nations projects, which employ a fraction of the thousands of construction workers who have been idled, and negotiations to resolve Gaza’s fuel shortage have not yielded significant results.
“We are increasingly concerned about the situation in Gaza deteriorating,” Robert H. Serry, the United Nations’ special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said in an interview.
Mr. Serry, who worked with Israeli officials to resume the import of construction materials, acknowledged that “it is only one part of the constraints we are facing in Gaza.” He added, “Without also addressing the political underlying issues, everything we’re doing in Gaza is tenuous.”
Gaza, home to 1.7 million Palestinians and controlled since 2007 by the militant Islamic Hamas movement, has been struggling since the summer to cope with the current Egyptian government’s closing of hundreds of smuggling tunnels through which the strip received steel, gravel and cheap diesel fuel, as well as consumer products.
The situation worsened on Nov. 1, when Hamas shut down Gaza’s lone power plant because of a shortage of electricity and cheap fuel from Egypt, stretching blackouts up to 18 hours a day and causing raw sewage to flood some streets because pumping stations could not operate.
Late last month, Turkey donated about $850,000 in fuel, which is being used for 100 critical spots, including pumping stations, schools and hospitals. But Palestinian and United Nations officials said that the fuel was not enough to address the broader energy problems plaguing daily life, and that in any case it would run out by February.
Mr. Serry’s office estimated that Gaza needed an infusion of $6 million to $8 million a month to address the fuel shortage. Qatar has expressed willingness to donate the money, but political friction between Gaza and the Palestinian Authority — which is dominated by Hamas’s political rival, Fatah — over taxes and other matters concerning the fuel’s importation have stymied the deal.
On Sunday, despite the cold and rain, the Hamas power authority asked residents not to turn on their heaters to conserve electricity.
Israel suspended delivery of construction materials in mid-October after discovering a 1.5-mile tunnel from Gaza into its territory that it feared would be used to kidnap or attack Israelis.
Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli agency that coordinates interaction with the Palestinian territories, said the transfers would resume on Tuesday with a new “supervision and control mechanism” to ensure the materials would be used only for United Nations building projects.
Gisha, an Israeli organization that promotes access to Gaza, said Israel began allowing some construction materials in three years ago for international projects, and last December, after the cease-fire agreement that ended eight days of cross-border violence, permitted 20 truckloads of gravel daily for the private sector. In September, after Egypt’s crackdown on the tunnels, Israel increased the allowance to 70 truckloads daily and added cement deliveries.
Separately, Israel on Sunday blocked the installation of a high-tech cargo scanner donated by the Netherlands at the commercial crossing from Gaza into Israel, citing security concerns. The scanner was intended to increase Gaza exports to the West Bank.
“The international community is appropriately worried about Gaza’s humanitarian situation, but Gaza’s dependence on foreign aid stems in large part from Israeli restrictions on economic development,” said Gisha’s director, Sari Bashi. “If people in Gaza were permitted to maintain and grow their economy, they would need far less humanitarian assistance.”
Nabil Abu Muaileq, head of the contractors’ union in Gaza, said that there were $200 million in projects currently idle, leaving 30,000 people who work directly on the buildings and an additional 40,000 carpenters, plumbers, blacksmiths and others connected to construction without income.
He estimated that based on the limited imports Israel now plans to allow, 3,500 of them would return to work.
“The ordeal is huge, and its disastrous effects will appear soon,” Mr. Abu Muaileq warned. “This will not resolve any crisis, but we hope it paves the way for a full lifting of restrictions.”
Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza.
Uruguay's legal cannabis plan on verge of adoption
Senate expected to approve plan which president says aims to get organised crime out of marijuana dealing, not promote use
Associated Press in Montevideo
theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 December 2013 11.44 GMT
Uruguay's plan to set up a legal, regulated marijuana market has reached its final legislative stage, with the Senate expected to approve the plan by late on Tuesday and send it to President José Mujica for his signature.
Senators prepared for a long day and night of speeches starting on Tuesday morning. The body is dominated by Mujica's ruling Broad Front coalition, which wants to make Uruguay the world's first nation to put the government at the centre of a legalised marijuana trade.
Congress's lower house has already passed the measure, and the Senate has rejected all proposed amendments. Mujica is one of the plan's biggest advocates despite saying he has never tried cannabis himself.
Polls say two-thirds of Uruguayans oppose the plan, despite a national TV campaign and other lobbying efforts funded by billionaire currency speculator and philanthropist George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation and Drug Policy Alliance campaigned for the proposal.
Mujica says the goal is to get organised crime out of marijuana dealing, not to promote the use of cannabis. "This is a plague, just like cigarettes are a plague," he said recently.
The government hopes that when licensed growers, providers and users can openly trade in the drug, illegal traffickers will be denied their profits and go away.
Socialist deputy Julio Bango, who co-authored the proposal, said: "This is not a law to liberalise marijuana consumption, but rather to regulate it. Today there is a market dominated by drug traffickers. We want the state to dominate it."
The project includes a media campaign, launched on Friday, which aims to reduce cannabis smoking by warning of its health risks.
December 9, 2013
Argentina: Looting Spreads as Police Officers Stage Strikes
By JONATHAN GILBERT
Strikes by police officers demanding higher salaries opened the way for looting in cities across Argentina over the weekend. Police officers in 14 of the country’s 23 provinces have staged work stoppages in recent days, local news media said. Some of the strikes have been settled with agreements for pay increases, but officers of at least nine police departments were still protesting on Monday afternoon. One person died during looting in the city of Concordia, on the border with Uruguay, on Sunday night, raising the death toll linked to the chaos to three. Thousands of federal troops have been deployed to the provinces, according to the Security Ministry and Argentina’s national news agency. Government officials accused opposition politicians of fomenting the new wave of looting, but some analysts criticized the government’s failure to reduce poverty. “There is still a nucleus that remains impoverished, that sees nothing positive on the horizon,” said Carlos F. De Angelis, a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires.
Canada to lay claim to north pole – video
Tuesday 10 December 2013
Canada announces its intention to claim the north pole as part of a bid to assert control over a large part of the resource-rich Arctic. The country's foreign affairs minister, John Baird, says the government has asked scientists to work on a future submission to the United Nations, arguing that the outer limits of the country's continental shelf include the pole
Click to watch this absurdity: http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/dec/10/canada-claim-north-pole-video
************Pig Putin orders Russian military to boost presence in Arctic after Canada signalled intention to claim the North Pole
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 8:26 EST
President Pig Putin ordered Russia’s military on Tuesday to step up its presence in the Arctic after Canada signalled its intention to claim the North Pole and surrounding waters.
The tough and quick response to Canada’s announcement reflected Russia’s desire to protect its oil and natural gas interests in the pristine but energy-rich region amid competing claims there by countries that also include Norway and Denmark.
Pig Putin told an expanded defence ministry meeting that Russia’s national interests and security lay in bolstering its presence in the Arctic after making a brief post-Soviet retreat.
“I would like you to devote special attention to deploying infrastructure and military units in the Arctic,” the Kremlin chief said in televised remarks.
Canada last week filed a claim with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf concerning the outer limits of its continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the submission includes Canada’s stake on the North Pole.
Russia has an overlapping claim to both the North Pole as well as large parts of the Arctic that the US Geological Survey believes could hold 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and as much as 30 its hidden natural gas reserves.
A government-sponsored diving team in 2007 planted a Russian flag under the North Pole and the Kremlin has long mulled plans to deploy a large military presence in the region.
The Pig told Tuesday’s defence ministry meeting that “next year, we have to complete the formation of new large units and military divisions” in the Arctic that remain on constant combat alert.
He said Russia was “ever-more actively reclaiming this promising region, returning to it” after a brief absence that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse.
The Kremlin chief added that Russia must possess “all the levers necessary for protecting its security and national interests” in the area.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin that his directives would be strictly followed and implemented on time.
“In 2014, we intend to create military units and forces for ensuring the military security and protecting the national interests of the Russian Federation in the Arctic,” Shoigu said.
The plans outlined by Putin particularly concerned the deployment of new and expansion of existing military air bases in the far north Siberian town of Tiksi in the Yakutia region and the northwestern naval port of Severomorsk.
Pig Putin added that Russia also intended to restore a Soviet-era military base on the New Siberian Islands in the extreme north of east Siberia.
Russia is currently completing the development of a state programme for tapping hard-to-reach Arctic energy riches over the coming two decades with the help of such multinational giants as ExxonMobil.
The Ernst and Young consultancy noted in a recent report that Russia was also “preparing an application to extend its borders over 1.2 million square kilometres (465,000 square miles) of Arctic waters.”
Ernst and Young said it expected Putin’s team to file its application with the United Nations by the end of the year.
‘All the ingredients are there for life’: NASA rover uncovers ancient fresh water lake on Mars
By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Monday, December 9, 2013 12:53 EST
An enormous crater near the northern plains of Mars once harboured an ancient lake that could have supported microbial life, Nasa scientists claim.
The freshwater lake stood for more than one hundred thousand years at the base of Gale Crater, a 150km-wide formation that was created when a meteor punched into the red planet around 3.7bn years ago.
Tests on rock samples by Nasa’s Curiosity rover revealed the presence of fine clay minerals that formed in a standing body of water, and coarse-grained sandstones laid down by river flows that drained into the lake.
“The presence of these minerals tells us the water was likely to be fresh water, which means it’s much more conducive for microbial life,” said Sanjeev Gupta, a geologist at Imperial College, London, and a member of the Curiosity science team.
“These rocks are similar to those we would find if we walked along the Dorset or Devon coast line,” he added.
The Nasa team is not sure how deep or wide the lake was, but suspect it was deep enough not to have dried out periodically, as this would have left traces of crack marks in the rock samples.
The $2.5bn (£1.6bn) rover landed in on Mars in August 2012 on a mission to explore whether the planet may once have been habitable, though not to look for signs of ancient life itself.
Curiosity’s main objective is to trundle up nearby Mount Sharp, a 5km-high mountain that sits in the middle of Gale Crater. Through measurements of its exposed rock faces at different altitudes, researchers hope to piece together the geological history of the planet.
But Curiosity did not make for Mount Sharp immediately. After relaying details of the Martian soil near its landing site, the rover was steered towards a 5m-deep trough in the crater called Yellowknife Bay. Here, the robotic science laboratory drilled into a rock formation called Sheepbed mudstone and examined the powder with its instruments.
Though a combination of x-ray diffraction experiments and analyses of gases given off when the powder was baked in an onboard oven, researchers identified so-called smectite clay minerals that formed in water and elements crucial for life, including carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur, nitrogen and phosphorus.
The chemical makeup of the minerals showed that they formed in water with low salinity and a neutral pH, suggesting it was neither too acidic nor too alkaline for life to exist.
Writing in the journal, Science, researchers explain that the conditions in the lake were well suited to support a type of microbial life called chemolithoautotrophs. These organisms are found on Earth and can survive by breaking down rocks and minerals for energy.
The lake may have persisted on Mars for tens of thousands of years, said John Grotzinger, project scientist on the Nasa mission at Caltech in Pasadena.
Monica Grady, professor of planetary and space sciences at Open University, said the images of rocks and minerals beamed back from Mars by the Curiosity rover were “spectacular, beautiful and absolutely compelling.”
Grady said the findings were shifting scientists’ views on how life might have existed on Mars. “The life we know on Earth is largely based on photosynthesis. Grass photoynthesises, cows eat the grass, we eat the cows. We know there are other platforms for life, but they are mostly at the bottom of the ocean and in really odd places.”
Instead of relying on the sun’s energy, life in the Martian lake could have survived on energy liberated by chemical reactions. “This is really, for the first time, showing that absolutely all the ingredients are there for life based on chemistry, and that would be reactions between sulphur and iron. It says that there were absolutely environments on Mars where energy from chemical reactions could have been harvested to make nutrient pathways work. It’s so beautifully laid out.”
Grady said that even though the Martian lake may have been around for only tens of thousands of years, that may have been long enough for life to emerge there. “We don’t really know how long it took for life to get going on Earth. We don’t know if it got going once or lots of times.
“The more we know about how life developed on Earth, the more we’re beginning to understand that it didn’t take very long at all. The fact the lake might have been relatively short lived, in terms of hundreds of thousands of years, doesn’t mean that life couldn’t have got going there. It doesn’t mean that at all.”
Curiosity has found some evidence for carbonate rocks on Mars. Grady said that she and many other scientists are keen to see the rover find some of these and analyse them. The rocks form in the presence of carbon dioxide, which on Earth is a product of respiration, and is important for photosynthesis and the carbon cycle.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Data-sharing among US law agencies amounts to 'organised chaos' – report
• Report describes lack of oversight and civil liberties violations
• Agencies 'risk masking reliable counter-terrorism intelligence'
Spencer Ackerman in New York
theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 December 2013 14.01 GMT
The sharing of crucial intelligence about counter-terrorism between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and local police departments takes place through a patchwork process that amounts to “organized chaos”, according to a new report.
The report, released Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice, a public-policy institute at New York University law school that has a track record of being skeptical of government surveillance, found inconsistent rules, inadequate oversight, apparent wastefulness and insufficient regard for civil liberties nationwide.
“This poorly organized system not only wastes time and resources; it also risks masking reliable intelligence that could be crucial to an investigation,” the report says, warning that a “din of data” is overwhelming law enforcement.
“There’s a lot of irrelevant information being collected,” said Michael Price, a counsel with the Brennan Center and the author of the report.
“As a result of that, it seems pretty easy for information to slip through the cracks.”
Scrutiny of the wide-reaching intelligence apparatus in federal, state and local law enforcement since 9/11 has largely taken a backseat during the past six months’ worth of revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities. But this week, several reports pointed to an enormous amount of data collected by police departments – particularly from cellular towers.
The Brennan Center report examined 16 major police departments across the US, along with 19 affiliated “fusion centers” – controversial data-sharing pools between federal, state and local agencies – and 14 of the FBI’s joint terrorism task force partnerships with police.
It found, among other problems, inconsistent quality control, which permitted a flood of local tips – some as innocuous as “ordering food at a restaurant and leav[ing] before the food arrives” (an example from California, according to a Fusion Center training document obtained by the report's authors) – into fusion centers.
Data like that does not meet the legal standard for "reasonable suspicion" normally required to pursue surveillance, let alone the requirements of probable cause. Yet it can be stored within fusion centers and accessed by a variety of law enforcement and homeland security agencies for up to a year, the report said.
Despite efforts by the Department of Homeland Security, most of the fusion centers operate with “minimal oversight, or no oversight whatsoever”, the report found. Out of 19 centers reviewed, only five require independent audits of retained data.
“We’re calling for clear, consistent processes and stronger standards for collecting and sharing information to reduce some of the noise coming from this din of data,” Price said.
Fusion centers have been the subject of criticism from both civil libertarians and powerful elected officials. A 2012 investigation by the bipartisan Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations of more than 80,000 fusion center documents could not find any contribution the centers had made to “disrupt[ing] an active terrorist plot”.
Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoman who serves as the top Republican on the Senate government reform and homeland security committee, has emerged as a leading legislative critic of fusion centers and joint terrorism task forces, for many of the same reasons detailed in the Brennan Center report. After a government inquiry indicated many federal data-sharing efforts were duplicative, Coburn issued a statement in April calling them “a vital component of national security”, but adding, “that is not an excuse to waste taxpayer funds”.
The Brennan Center’s report comes as police departments’ widespread use of cellphone data is attracting new scrutiny.
On Monday, the Washington Post revealed that police departments around the country relied 9,000 times last year on so-called “tower dumps”, or data collected from cellphone signals that went to a given cellphone tower during a certain period of time. That data necessarily includes call information from cellphone subscribers who are never suspected of any crime.
“There are serious questions about how law enforcement handles the information of innocent people swept up in these digital dragnets,” congressman Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who plans to introduce legislation limiting tower dumps, told the Post.
Also on Monday, USA Today reported that approximately a quarter of police departments in the US have employed tower dumps, and at least 25 departments around the country employ a portable piece of spoofing hardware, called a Stingray, that tricks cellphones into thinking it is a cell tower, allowing it siphon data and send it directly to police.
And all that information is on top of the fruits of the NSA’s vast data collection efforts, which are not entirely off limits to federal law enforcement. The controversial bulk collection of Americans’ phone data has been repeatedly described by the NSA as a tool to aid the FBI in detecting domestic terrorism activity.
NSA deputy director John C Inglis recently stated that the FBI cannot search directly through the NSA’s data troves, but the agency shares telephone metadata with the bureau following searches through its databases based on “reasonable articulable suspicion” of connections to specific terrorist organizations.
The Brennan Center report did not specifically analyze law enforcement tower dumps, but Price called the reports of them alarming.
“This is another indication of the vast trove of information that state and local police are collecting about law abiding Americans,” Price said. “To date, that information does not appear to be particularly useful in preventing terror attacks.”
U.S.-led Pacific trade pact (TPP) misses 2013 deadline for agreement
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 8:34 EST
Talks on forming a huge US-led Pacific free trade area will resume next month after the 12 prospective members Tuesday gave up on meeting Washington’s year-end deadline for a deal.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman and his counterparts said they made “substantial progress” after four days of talks in Singapore on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but failed to resolve all issues.
“We have decided to continue our intensive work in the coming weeks toward such an agreement,” Froman said, reading a joint statement by the trade ministers.
“Following additional work by negotiators, we intend to meet again next month,” said the statement, which capped secretive talks denounced by activists as a US attempt to railroad a deal.
The TPP is being negotiated by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
They make up 40 percent of the global economy and other countries may join the pact later.
The ministers had arrived in Singapore from the just-concluded World Trade Organisation talks in the Indonesian island of Bali.
President Barack Obama has hailed the TPP as a centrepiece of renewed US engagement in Asia, saying it contains market-opening commitments that go well beyond those in other free-trade accords.
The TPP talks also cover areas not included in other pacts, such as the environment and labour standards.
But the complexity of the issues already caused negotiators to miss the original 2012 deadline set by Obama to reach a deal.
They have been divided on a number of issues, including opening up Japan’s auto and farm markets, government procurement and limiting the role of state-owned enterprises — said by some countries to distort competition.
Patent issues — in particular on medicines — have also been a sticking point.
US negotiators, backed by the powerful pharmaceuticals industry, want drug companies to get longer patent protection for a new class of drugs called “biologics” which are developed from living tissue.
Drug firms say this is necessary to allow them to recoup investments and continue research into fresh cures.
But campaign groups like humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) say such patent protection would restrict access to cheaper generic drugs for millions of poor people.
Activists monitoring the TPP talks hailed the failure to meet the deadline.
Jamie Choi, campaign director of global advocacy group Avaaz, said: “The US was hellbent on sealing the super-secretive deal this week, but people across the world have blown these talks open, and we’re seeing countries standing strong for what their citizens want.”
Choi added: “People power is seeing off big business bullies — it’s great news for democracy.”
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, reiterated the group’s demand for greater transparency.
“At this stage, the draft TPP text must be released so those of us who will live with the results can know just what was this so-called ‘progress’ entailed, and at whose expense,” Wallach said.
But US trade chief Froman, who was described by Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb as a “very hard taskmaster”, called the Singapore meeting “tremendously successful and productive”.
Robb noted the number of countries involved and the difficulty of opening up sectors deemed sensitive in each country.
“I’ve been very encouraged but we still got a way to go,” he said.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, senior vice minister in Japan’s Cabinet office, said the negotiators must respect the “sensitivities” of each country.
Despite the failure to reach a deal, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said momentum was accelerating and this was more important than meeting deadlines.
“And as is always the case in life, the toughest political decisions will be taken at the end,” he said.
Pressure builds for ‘do-nothing Congress’ to end dreadful year on productive note
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 8:41 EST
Lambasted as a “do-nothing Congress,” American lawmakers wrap up a miserable year having shut down the government and failed to pass key legislation, while still facing huge challenges in the closing weeks of 2013.
A divided Congress like the one Americans have today fosters underachievement, but this year is particularly woeful. Congress has passed just 55 non-ceremonial laws so far, putting 2013 on track to be the least productive year ever.
And with the House scheduled to go on break from the end of this week until January, lawmakers face a herculean task to reach a 2014 budget deal, settle on defense spending and approve a massive farm bill.
Among the most pressing issues: President Barack Obama wants his nominee for new Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, and Homeland Security secretary nominee Jeh Johnson, confirmed by the Senate as soon as possible, along with several stalled judicial nominees.
“We may really have to work the next couple weekends,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday as the chamber returned from a two-week recess.
“I hope Republicans and Democrats can put aside our differences and work together.”
And yet the partisan feuding has nearly cleaved Washington in two this past year.
Fueled by their anger over Obama’s health care law, many Republicans refused to accept a budget agreement in September unless it placed limitations on so-called Obamacare.
The impasse resulted in a 16-day government shutdown — and the narrow avoidance of a debt default came to be considered a victory in deeply divided Washington.
Last week, House Democrat Dina Titus bemoaned the “staggering list of unfinished business.”
Instead of focusing on getting important legislation enacted, House Republican leaders “have gutted nutritional programs, voted to repeal health care reform 43 times, and shut down the government in a fit of pique,” Titus said on the House floor.
While the Democrat-run Senate has passed major legislation including comprehensive immigration reform, a measure banning workplace discrimination, and a farm bill laying out nutritional and food policy for the next decade, House leadership has yet to bring those bills to a vote. The failure comes even though lawmakers from both parties acknowledge they would likely pass.
Even the defense spending bill is in jeopardy of not passing on time for the first time in 52 years, although lawmakers announced a deal Monday which could see the measure pass the House and Senate by next week.
Asked last week about the current Congress being the least productive ever, House Speaker John Boehner insisted his chamber was in order.
“Whether it’s the economy, whether it’s jobs, whether it’s protecting the American people from Obamacare — we’ve done our work,” Boehner told reporters.
The Senate has stalled on House bills as well, including toughened Iran sanctions and a proposal to build a major oil project, the Keystone Pipeline.
Complicating matters in the final weeks of the year, the Senate was on the verge Monday of introducing new economic sanctions on Iran.
Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Capitol Hill Tuesday seeking to convince lawmakers to hold off on any new penalties in order to allow ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear drive a chance to work.
Lawmakers are meanwhile finalizing what is shaping up to be a modest budget agreement for 2014 and 2015.
With a stop-gap budget part of the deal to reopen government in October, the warring parties were tasked with crafting a more comprehensive agreement.
The deal would not reduce the deficit, address entitlement reform or close tax loopholes. But aides say it aims to include some suspension of automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration” that have crippled agencies like the Pentagon.
Perhaps most importantly, it ends — at least temporarily — the cycle of fiscal crisis that has engulfed Washington since the “grand bargain” budget debacle of 2011.
“I do think that when you have a divided government it’s always going to be ugly,” Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill told CBS Monday.
“You can’t really expect us to hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ because we all believe that we were sent (to Washington) with a different set of values and priorities.”
Supreme "Corporate" Court to rule on EPA’s powers to enforce air pollution limits
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 9:28 EST
Hearing begins on key case challenging Environment Protection Agency’s authority to compel power plants to cut carbon emissions
Barack Obama’s authority to compel power plants in the US midwest to reduce the smog and soot that blow across to north-eastern states will be put to the test on Tuesday in the first of three major challenges to environmental regulations.
The supreme court will hear arguments about whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can set limits on air pollution that, while originating in one state, directly affect the air quality in other states.
It is the first of two cases this session that will help define the limits of the EPA’s authority to deal with air pollution and climate change. Early next year, the court will hear a challenge to the EPA’s plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, the federal appeals court will hear a case seeking to overturn EPA limits on mercury and other emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The case was brought by the coal company, Peabody Energy Corp, the United Mineworkers of America, Texas and other states.
In Tuesday’s supreme court proceedings, judges will review whether the EPA had the authority to allocate responsibility for air pollution to the different states.
The DC circuit court struck down the regulation in August 2012, following a challenge filed by 15 states.
In Tuesday’s proceedings, the EPA and the American Lung Association are expected to argue that the soot particles and ozone generated by coal-fired power plants and other facilities in the midwest are dangerously compromising air quality in north-eastern states.
Soot and smog blown across the country by prevailing westerly winds end up in north-eastern states where they are responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths every year, and hundreds of thousands of cases of childhood asthma, the EPA argues.
Some states, such as Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware, complain that almost all of their pollution comes from out of state.
The governors of eight of those states petitioned the EPA on Monday to put tighter controls on cross-state pollution.
“Most Americans try to be good neighbours and live by the golden rule,” Delaware’s governor, Jack Markell, told reporters. “Yet our states are receiving hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution from the states that are upwind of us.”
The cross-state air pollution rule facing supreme court review set new limits on nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide for 28 states, forcing coal-fired power plants to install new pollution controls, or shut down.
The justices have set aside 90 minutes to hear oral arguments – a sign of the importance they accord to the case. Most cases before the supreme court are allotted 60 minutes for arguments.
Nine states have joined the EPA and the American Lung Association in urging the court to overturn the DC circuit court’s ruling. Both the EPA and the lung association, in a telephone conference call with reporters, have talked about the elevated health risks from air pollution, premature deaths from heart disease and lung ailments to developmental problems in infants.
Environmental campaigners are closely watching Tuesday’s proceedings. If the judges reverse the lower court ruling it would ease the way for the EPA when next summer it releases new rules on existing power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
December 9, 2013
U.S. Charges 18 Sheriff’s Officers in Inquiry Into Misconduct at Los Angeles Jails
By JENNIFER MEDINA
LOS ANGELES — Federal prosectors on Monday charged 18 current and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department with excessive use of force and obstruction of justice as part of a sprawling investigation into allegations of misconduct and abuse of inmates in county jails, federal law enforcement officials said.
All but two of the officers, including two lieutenants, were arrested on Monday; the two deputies who were not arrested were apparently traveling, prosecutors said.
The officers all worked in the county’s jails in downtown Los Angeles.
The county’s jail system — the largest in the country and, according to many inmate advocates, the most troubled — has been under intense federal scrutiny for more than two years after a string of lawsuits accused deputies of abusing inmates.
One of four indictments returned Monday named seven officers who were supposed to monitor internal affairs. In the indictment, federal officials charged that two lieutenants tried to hide an inmate after they discovered that he was acting as an informant for the F.B.I.’s investigation.
The inmate had obtained a cellphone after one deputy at the jail accepted a bribe from an undercover federal agent, according to the indictment. The officers changed records to make it seem as if the inmate had been released, then rebooked him using a different name; one officer told the informant that he had been abandoned by federal investigators, prosecutors charge.
Two deputies then tried to obtain a court order from a county judge to get information about the federal investigation; when the judge denied the request, two sergeants from the sheriff’s department confronted an F.B.I. agent at home, threatening her with arrest, the indictment said.
“These incidents did not take place in a vacuum,” André Birotte Jr., the United States attorney for Los Angeles, said Monday in announcing the charges at a news conference.
“Certain behavior had become institutionalized, and a group of officers considered themselves to be above the law,” he said. “Instead of ensuring the law is defended, they are accused of taking steps to prevent that.”
The allegations come at a particularly difficult time for Sheriff Lee Baca, who is facing several challengers in his campaign for re-election next year. Sheriff Baca has repeatedly said that he responded to all charges of misconduct as soon as he was aware of them, but critics like the American Civil Liberties Union say that he willfully ignored persistent problems.
Sheriff Baca said Monday that the department had cooperated fully with the investigation, and he defended the county jails as the “safest jails in the United States.”
“We do not tolerate misconduct by any deputies,” he said.
Sheriff Baca said 14 or 15 of the officers charged were still with the department and would be placed on unpaid leave. “My employees, 99.9 percent of them, also do outstanding work.”
The two lieutenants assigned to oversee internal problems who were indicted Monday were identified as Gregory Thompson, in charge of the Operation Safe Jails Program and the jail investigations unit, and Stephen Leavins, of the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which investigates allegations of crimes by sheriff’s officials. Both men were charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Sheriff Baca refused to say whether he knew about their actions at the time described in the indictment or whether he had been interviewed by the grand jury.
The indictment lists several cases in which visitors were taken to a break room meant for deputies at the jail and beaten. One man visiting his brother in 2011 had his arm broken and shoulder dislocated and was locked up for five days without justification, Mr. Birotte said. The man, who was not named in the indictment, now has a permanent disability, officials said.
The indictment also charges Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who supervised the visitor center but no longer works for the department, along with four deputies who reported to him; each participated in at least one beating, according to the court documents. Mr. Gonzalez was accused of scolding deputies who did not use force against visitors who “disrespected” sheriffs.
In June 2011, according to the indictment, the husband of the Austrian consul general was arrested near the entrance to the visitor center. When the diplomat later asked to speak to a supervisor about her husband’s arrest, she was also arrested, although she was not charged.
Ian Lovett contributed reporting.
Here Are The Facts That Republicans and The Corporate Media Aren’t Telling You About the ACA
By: Jason Easley
Monday, December, 9th, 2013, 11:03 am
There is a lot of misinformation being intentionally circulated for partisan political gain about the Affordable Care Act. In an effort to provide people with the truth about the healthcare law and the website, PoliticusUSA did what most of the media hasn’t done. We spoke to someone in the private sector who works with the ACA and the website on a regular basis.
Aaron Lehman has been a financial advisor for 16 years. He has spent most of his career working with health insurance. He has been training in using the website and utilizes the site three times a week for his clients. He is a person who has dealt with the website from the beginning, and he was kind enough to share his experiences with us.
Mr. Lehman started off by telling what he likes best about the ACA, “The biggest reason I like the ACA is that it covers pre-existing conditions. In the past I have had many clients that have been let go from their job and the reason was not their fault. These people cannot get health insurance through an underwritten (normal) policy. If they can get insurance they will need to get COBRA which is very expensive or through a guaranteed issue policy which usually doesn’t cover their condition. This was a very hard conversation to have with someone especially the way they were currently feeling after losing their job. Now I don’t have to worry about it because if the same situation happens now, they will be able to get insurance to cover the condition. They also will probably be paying less than COBRA and will get better coverage.”
I asked Aaron what the biggest difference was in the media reporting on the website, and what is really going on, “The website is working very well and I have first-hand experience since I have been signing people up for the ACA. The media and Republicans are reporting otherwise and I have no idea why.”
Lehman expressed surprise at Republican claims of backend issues with the website, “I specifically asked my clients to call me when they got their bill. Everyone received it within two weeks of signing up so I was really surprised when I was told there were backend issues with the website.
He was critical of the website when it launched, “When the website launched I HATED IT. I would go on with clients, and it would crash or would not even let me get on. When you have clients come specifically for the ACA, and it doesn’t work it sucks. The government should have realized that every agent that is going to be working with the website would go on the first day to see what it looks like. Also, you have the general population that would be going on the website. The rollout was one of the most idiotic things I had ever seen. Bottom line: it sucked. I noticed the website getting better about three weeks ago. I could get on it, and clients are were getting registered with the ACA. Mostly everyone I enrolled did not have a great attitude when they first came in however when they left they were thanking me because they were paying less for coverage and getting better coverage.”
The experiences of Lehman and his clients don’t match up with Republican claims that the ACA is causing premiums to increase, “Every client that I have signed up for the website has saved money on their premium. The premiums are higher for the most part, but most people qualify for a subsidy. This website is a quick look to see if you qualify for a subsidy. If you are a family of 4 but do not all need insurance, then this website will not tell you the whole story. This website gives you the premium if all members need to be covered. If 3 members are covered and one isn’t the healthcare.org website will show you how much you qualify for and will give you the premium for the member of the family that needs health insurance. For the most part, if you are 400% below the poverty level you should qualify for a subsidy. Here are the federal poverty guidelines
Aaron concluded with this message for people who might be nervous or uncertain about what to believe when it comes to the website and the ACA, “Just because you go on the website and create an account, it doesn’t mean that you need to enroll. You can go on and see based on your income if you qualify for a subsidy and how much the different plans cost. If you get $300 for a subsidy and only use $250, you will get $50 back on your taxes at the end of the year. If your income is increases or decreases in 2014, then the credit will go down or up on your tax return which means you may pay more or less taxes at the end of the year. These answers are based on my experience with the website and not from the news or even PoliticusUSA. I can only report what I have learned about the website after using it for 2 months. Everything with the website is not perfect but for the right person I have seen that it is a positive thing.”
December 9, 2013
Health Care Exchange Is Vastly Improved, Users Say
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ and JENNIFER PRESTON
MIAMI — After two months of false starts, error messages and pleas for patience from the once-hobbled federal online health care exchange, Karen Egozi, the chief executive of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, watched on Monday as counselors navigated the website’s pages with relative ease.
Click. Next page. Click. Next page. The website, HealthCare.gov, was working so well that Ms. Egozi, who oversees the 45 navigators in eight locations who help consumers enroll in health plans, said her team gave the system an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, meaning that most people got as far as selecting a plan or taking home information to select a plan. It felt like a champagne moment.
“I’m 80 percent satisfied,” Ms. Egozi said. “I think it will be great when it’s 100 percent.”
A little over a week after the deadline that President Obama gave for fixing the federal health care exchange, the system is definitely working better, according to consumers and navigators interviewed in several states. The technical errors that had bedeviled visitors to the site for weeks seemed to have been tamed by the patchwork of hardware and software fixes ordered by the administration, and applicants were finally selecting health care plans under the president’s new law, the Affordable Care Act. By last week, the number of applicants who dropped a plan into their virtual grocery carts was climbing at a rapid clip.
Still, the interviews indicated, some technical obstacles persist. After shoppers clicked all the way to the plans, for example, the system was not letting some people actually choose one. In other cases, people were asked to try again later.
Improved entry into the online marketplace has also exposed a new layer of problems and confusion for applicants who are suddenly finding their efforts to buy insurance delayed by requirements that they provide proof of identity or citizenship or that they wait for determinations on Medicaid eligibility.
For the most part, though, the news for the beleaguered online exchange, which serves 36 states, is improving. Since early December, the federal exchange website has run without crashing, officials said. In the first week of December, about 112,000 people selected plans — compared with about 100,000 in all of November and only 27,000 in October. Last week, more than half a million people created accounts on the federal website, according to people familiar with the health care project.
Technical experts involved with the exchange said they are now preparing for a surge of applications before Dec. 23, the enrollment deadline to receive coverage by the first of the year. Although those preparations will require some significant changes to the system, the work will be easier now that the site seems stable during heavy use, the experts said.
In offices spread across the country, from Florida and Pennsylvania to Wyoming and Wisconsin, all of them states that rely on the federal government’s insurance exchange, navigators and applicants reported far fewer problems.
“I was hearing so much about the glitches in the system that I was worried that it wouldn’t work,” said Caroline Moseley, 54, who lost her job as a housing program analyst for the City of Philadelphia. After asking a navigator from the nonprofit Resources for Human Development for help in finding a plan, Ms. Moseley chose one that costs $27 a month with a $6,000 deductible. “It was a great experience,” she said. “The site was running very smoothly. It took about 30 minutes tops.”
Stephanie Lincoln, 60, of Lansdowne, Pa., also had quick success with the exchange — after a frustrating experience trying to submit an application online in October and November. With the help of a navigator, Caroline Picher, working at the local library, Ms. Lincoln signed up in just one hour on Friday for a policy that will cost $113 a month, with no deductible.
“I am one of the people whose plans were canceled,” Ms. Lincoln said. “It was just the easiest thing in the world.”
But the smoother functioning of the website has also brought to light new kinds of delays that are creating anxieties for some of the people rushing to buy insurance by the December 23 deadline.
At Wyoming Senior Citizens in Riverton, Wyo., four people walked in on Thursday and Friday and completed their applications with the help of counselors. After they successfully entered their personal information, the system displayed a message saying they needed to check if they qualified for Medicaid, said Karla Borders, a navigator at the center.
Ms. Borders said the clients already knew that they did not qualify because they had applied before and been denied. But the website would not allow them to proceed with their enrollment, informing them that they would be notified if they were indeed eligible for Medicaid, which can take a week. “Now they’re basically being put back in the system,” Ms. Borders said. “It just kind of puts them in limbo until they get another denial letter.”
In general, health policy experts said, people must be checked for eligibility for Medicaid before they can get tax credits to help pay premiums for health insurance purchased on an exchange. Under the 2010 health care law, people generally cannot receive tax credits if they are eligible for “minimum essential coverage” from other sources like Medicaid and Medicare.
Asked about the problems reported by consumers and insurance counselors, Aaron Albright, a spokesman at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said: “HealthCare.gov is working smoothly for the vast majority of users. We’ve acknowledged that there are some consumers who may be better served through in-person assistance or call centers. There will be some people who have technical difficulties or complicated family or tax situations that will be better served through other pathways.”
In West Palm Beach, Fla., John Foley, a lawyer and certified counselor for the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, said now that applicants are moving beyond the initial application stages, he and others in Florida have hit upon another problem that could delay enrollment for some: Naturalized citizens are being asked by the system for a citizenship number that appears on their naturalization documents.
United States passports, which require proof of citizenship, are not allowed as substitutes. Mr. Foley said some of his clients, particularly those who were naturalized long ago, have misplaced that document or don’t know where it is. A copy costs more than $300, a prohibitive amount for some people.
“Some people go home and they hunt and it takes them a week to find the document,” Mr. Foley said. Despite such problems, many enrollment counselors said, they have been deluged with phone calls and walk-ins.
Linda Lott at the Jessie Trice Community Health Center in Miami said her office was feeling more confident that appointments with clients might actually yield enrollment these days. And while some people remain puzzled about the process, wondering why, for instance, they must wait to be billed by insurers instead of being able to pay for their insurance online àla Amazon, things were significantly better.
“I’m feeling very good about it,” Ms. Lott said. “We’re enrolling people.”
Lizette Alvarez reported from Miami, and Jennifer Preston from New York. Robert Pear and Sharon LaFraniere contributed reporting from Washington, and Dan Frosch from Denver.
December 9, 2013
With Rental Demand Soaring, Poor Are Feeling Squeezed
By ANNIE LOWREY
WASHINGTON — Violeta Torres cannot afford her apartment.
Ms. Torres, a 54-year-old nanny, pays $828 a month for a rundown one-bedroom that she keeps spotlessly clean, making the rent only by letting an acquaintance sleep on a mattress in the living room for about $400 a month.
But her one-bedroom happens to be in the booming Columbia Heights area here, where such an apartment, once renovated, would easily command twice the price. Her landlords have been trying to drive the tenants out of the building, she explained in Spanish. The broken fire alarms go off in the middle of the night. The common areas are filthy, and the apartments have been infested by rats, bedbugs and cockroaches.
In March, Ms. Torres said, the landlords tried to raise the rent. Like her neighbors, most of them also immigrants from El Salvador, she has simply ignored the demand for an additional $261 a month. “I don’t have the money,” she said.
Ms. Torres struggles to stay and cannot afford to leave. She makes about $1,000 a month caring for two toddlers. She sends $250 to her mother, who recently emerged from a diabetic coma and needs insulin. And $100 goes to her mother’s caretaker. After rent, that leaves just $200 or $250 for her.
Today, millions of poor Americans are caught in a similar trap, with the collapse of the housing boom helping stoke a severe shortage of affordable apartments. Demand for rental units has surged, with credit standards tight and many families unable to scrape together enough for a down payment for buying a home. At the same time, supply has declined, with homebuilders and landlords often targeting the upper end of the market.
“We are in the midst of the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has known,” Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development, said at a conference here on Monday.
And the less income a household has, the harder the sting. “These are the people with the fewest financial resources,” said Sheila Crowley, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a research and advocacy group based in Washington. “These are the people in danger of becoming homeless.”
The problem is national, and particularly acute among the working poor. The number of renters with very low incomes — less than 30 percent of the local median income, or about $19,000 nationally — surged by 3 million to 11.8 million between 2001 and 2011, according to a report released Monday by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. But the number of affordable rentals available to those households held steady at about 7 million. And by 2011, about 2.6 million of those rentals were occupied by higher-income households.
As a result, the share of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing jumped to 50 percent in 2010 from 38 percent in 2000. For renters with incomes of less than $15,000 a year, 83 percent pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent.
Many of the worst shortages are in major cities with healthy local economies, like Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Washington. “We’ve seen a huge loss of affordable housing stock,” said Jenny Reed, the policy director at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. “We have lost 50 percent of our low-cost units over the past 10 years, and at the same time, the number of high-cost apartments, the ones going for more than $1,500 a month, more than tripled.”
The squeeze comes both from supply and demand. Even as the housing market has started to turn around, the number of renting households has continued to climb — by a million in 2011 alone, the biggest annual increase in three decades. Many Americans have lost their mortgaged homes and chosen to rent. Others were unable to obtain financing for a purchase, because of a loss of income or tighter credit standards.
In many markets, investors have rushed to meet the new demand by building new multifamily housing units or by buying up foreclosed homes and renting them out. But that has not translated into a surge of new units available to low-income renters.
“Builders always are aiming at that higher end,” said Jed Kolko, the chief economist at Trulia. “And eventually, as those new units age, they trickle down to lower-income borrowers.”
But not now. With demand surging, inventories are shrinking, vacancy rates are falling and rents are rising at the low end.
The long-term federal budget cuts known as sequestration are only adding to the problem, hitting housing programs especially hard. Many local housing authorities, which rely on federal funds, have stopped rolling over vouchers, leaving even more families on waiting lists, to fend for themselves in rental markets where prices keep rising.
“I can’t emphasize enough how draconian these cuts have been on the backs of the poorest folks in the country,” said Sunia Zaterman of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities.
In some cases, the shortage of affordable rentals for the poor has meant an increased number of homeless people and families. That often means churning through housing options, spending a few days with friends, a few weeks with relatives, a few months in short-term rentals.
More often, housing advocates said, it means workers living in aging and often substandard housing, like Ms. Torres’s crowded apartment. The Latino Economic Development Center, which is helping Ms. Torres and her neighbors fight the rent increase, said it had heard increased complaints about mold, flooding, delayed maintenance repairs and other issues from low-income rentals.
It also means hundreds of thousands of poor Americans are paying far more for housing than they can really afford, squeezing out spending on other priorities. The Harvard study found that many low-income renters cut back most on food and transportation.
“If you’re putting 60, 70, 80 percent of a small income into housing, then obviously you have less to spend on everything else you need,” said Ms. Crowley of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “There’s a squeeze on basic necessities. You end up making very hard choices. Am I going to fill a prescription, or do my kids get a birthday cake? Do I give up my car?”
To help with her housing costs, Ms. Torres has considered taking on a third roommate, and is eagerly searching for a second job.
Washington, like many other cities, has tried to tackle the problems with local government funds and regulations intended to protect low-income renters against eviction or undue rental increases. Recently, Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced a new $100 million campaign to increase affordable housing in the city.
Even more ambitiously, Bill de Blasio, the incoming mayor of New York, has put forward a plan to build or preserve about 200,000 affordable units.
But housing advocates described such campaigns as too little, too late, given the powerful economic forces at work and the cutbacks at the federal level.
“Are these cities going to be places that poor people can live?” asked Elizabeth Falcon, the campaign organizer for the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, a local housing advocacy group.
“I think government investment is the only way that significant numbers of people are going to able to stay,” she said. “And right now we are not seeing government at any level commit enough to help a significant number of people.”
Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting.
John Boehner and Eric Cantor Respond to Economic Good News By Planning to Kill More Jobs
Monday, December, 9th, 2013, 12:18 pm
Many Americans have experienced a mean-spirited person that goes out of their way to minimize a co-worker’s stellar job performance to deflate their feeling of accomplishment, and if it was within their power, they would deliberately sabotage their co-worker and inform management that the person they just singled out for acknowledgment was a drag on the company to get their co-worker demoted or fired. It happens in families with jealous siblings, in team sports, and it has been happening in the United States’ Congress. Leave it to Republicans to take recent good news on the economic front to undermine President Obama’s handling of the economy, sabotage the recovery, and kill more jobs to create the illusion Democrats need to be voted out of Congress.
For five years, Republicans have deliberately obstructed economic recovery and used it to their advantage to take control of the House after the 2010 midterm elections despite the President and Democrats saved and turned the economy around after 8 years of Republican malfeasance. The recent encouraging reports on jobs and economic growth has given Republicans the impetus to undermine the recovery by killing more jobs and preventing future hiring to blame the President and Democrats for the GOP’s handiwork. Republicans are signaling that, as the end of the year looms, they will take extraordinary measures to obstruct the recovery in several ways, and besides being un-American, they are revealing their growing animus toward the American people. Not only do they see a way to slow the recovery, take money out of the economy, and kill more jobs, they see a way to add well over 2 million Americans to the poverty ranks and stay on schedule dismantling the middle class for their libertarian money machine.
In President Obama’s Saturday radio address, he clearly stated the reasons why it is economically prudent to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, and although it was a waste of words on callous Republicans, he appealed to whatever humanitarian sensibilities Republicans may still have. He said, “more than one million of our fellow Americans are poised to lose a vital economic lifeline just a few days after Christmas if Congress doesn’t do something about it. We offer temporary unemployment insurance so that job-seekers don’t fall into poverty, and for many families, it can be the difference between hardship and catastrophe. Last year alone, it lifted 2.5 million people out of poverty, and if members of Congress don’t act before they leave on their vacations, 1.3 million (2.15 million) Americans will lose this lifeline including 20,000 veterans who’ve served this country with honor. Extending unemployment insurance isn’t just the right thing to do for our families; it’s the smart thing to do for our economy.”
The President is right and Republicans know it, but he needed to counter Republican claims that letting benefits expire is good for the economy and the long term unemployed. Libertarian teabagger Rand Paul said “extending jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed does them a disservice.” Speaker John Boehner used the recent job reports to justify not extending unemployment benefits and said “the positive signs should discourage calls for more emergency government ‘stimulus, what our economy needs is more solutions that get government out of the way.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the solution was to get more unemployed Americans back to work, and yet House Republicans have obstructed and rejected job creation measures in lieu of killing jobs that has prevented a truly robust recovery that would get more jobless Americans back to work. In fact, Republicans likely plan to let unemployment benefits lapse after Christmas to hinder the President’s recovery and kill more jobs because they certainly read the same CBO reports the President does.
The CBO reported that “Recipients of the additional benefits would increase spending on consumer goods and services; that increase in aggregate demand would encourage businesses to boost production and hire more workers than they otherwise would.” In fact, in the President’s radio address, he said “the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that allowing benefits to expire will be a drag on our economic growth and a report by the Department of Labor estimated that it would cost businesses 240,000 jobs. When people have money to spend on basic necessities, that means more customers for our businesses and, ultimately, more jobs; and we need to do everything we can to help businesses create more good jobs that pay good wages even faster.”
The President also said “For decades, Congress has voted to offer relief to job-seekers – including when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today because it makes it easier for businesses to attract more customers, and our economy to grow.” A handy chart reveals what the President said is absolutely correct. A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that America is still facing a jobs “emergency” even though the economy is recovering; particularly for the long-term unemployed. In each of the previous three recessions, federal unemployment benefits for unemployed Americans did not end until the long-term unemployment rate had dropped to around 1.3% percent. At the moment, although the long-term unemployment rate is falling, it is still at 2.6% and it is as high at any point since World War II, and although it was 2.6% in 1983, Reagan kept benefits in place for an additional year-and-a-half. Apparently, Republicans have a different agenda with an African American man sitting in the Oval Office than a white B-movie actor.
As it stands today, there are a little over five unemployed workers for every open job, so the economy would have to add at least 8 million jobs immediately to reach pre-recession levels, and yet while Republicans have claimed for three years job creation was their highest priority during the 2010 midterm elections, they have opposed every single one of the President’s job creation measures, not created one single job, and taken great pride in killing millions of jobs and saying “so be it.” Their cavalier attitude towards killing jobs is only matched by their apparent glee at preventing job creation and it explains their opposition to extending jobless benefits to prevent 240,000 prospective jobs in the coming year in addition to the 200,000 jobs lost by letting unemployment benefits expire at Christmas.
It was a relative certainty that Republicans would use the recent good news on the economy, both GDP growth and job numbers, as a reason to find new ways to thwart the recovering economy and kill more jobs. That has, after all, been their sole purpose of serving in Congress since they plotted to obstruct President Obama’s economic agenda the day he was inaugurated in January 2009. It was definitely not a surprise that Speaker Boehner parroted the Reagan-GOP-Koch mantra that the key to creating jobs and a robust recovery was “more solutions that get government out of the way.” The only reason there has been a recovery from the Bush-Republican economic devastation was the President Obama’s government stimulus that has led to more than 8 million new jobs over the past 45 months that dwarfs the worst job creation record on record of less than 3 million jobs during 8 years under Bush-Republicans.
What is telling is that Republicans are using a bit of good economic news to send 2.15 million Americans into poverty ranks, kill 200,000 current jobs and another 240,000 over the next year as a result of letting long-term unemployment benefits expire. It is true Republicans have never needed a reason to kill jobs over the past three years they have had control of the House, and it is really little surprise they are using encouraging economic news to kill even more, but that they have the temerity to claim they are doing the long-term unemployed a service by keeping government out of the way just reinforces what most Americans already know; they are “mean-spirited government employees” deliberately sabotaging President Obama’s success, economic recovery, and over 2 million Americans’ hopes of staying out of poverty.
USA continued ...United Surveillance America
The Political Scene: State of Deception
Why won’t the President rein in the intelligence community?
by Ryan Lizza December 16, 2013
New Yorker magazine
On March 12, 2013, James R. Clapper appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss the threats facing America. Clapper, who is seventy-two, is a retired Air Force general and Barack Obama’s director of National Intelligence, in charge of overseeing the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and fourteen other U.S. spy agencies. Clapper is bald, with a gray goatee and rimless spectacles, and his affect is intimidatingly bureaucratic. The fifteen-member Intelligence Committee was created in the nineteen-seventies, after a series of investigations revealed that the N.S.A. and the C.I.A. had, for years, been illegally spying on Americans. The panel’s mission is to conduct “vigilant legislative oversight” of the intelligence community, but more often it treats senior intelligence officials like matinée idols. As the senators took turns at the microphone, greeting Clapper with anodyne statements and inquiries, he obligingly led them on a tour of the dangers posed by homegrown extremists, far-flung terrorist groups, and emerging nuclear powers.
“This hearing is really a unique opportunity to inform the American public to the extent we can about the threats we face as a nation, and worldwide,” Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and the committee’s chairman, said at one point. She asked committee members to “refrain from asking questions here that have classified answers.” Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, asked about the lessons of the terrorist attack in Benghazi. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, asked about the dangers of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Toward the end of the hearing, Feinstein turned to Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, also a Democrat, who had a final question. The two senators have been friends. Feinstein held a baby shower for Wyden and his wife, Nancy Bass, before the birth of twins, in 2007. But, since then, their increasingly divergent views on intelligence policy have strained the relationship. “This is an issue where we just have a difference of opinion,” Wyden told me. Feinstein often uses the committee to bolster the tools that spy agencies say they need to protect the country, and Wyden has been increasingly concerned about privacy rights. For almost a decade, he has been trying to force intelligence officials like Clapper to be more forthcoming about spy programs that gather information about Americans who have no connection to terrorism.
Wyden had an uneasy kind of vindication in June, three months after Clapper’s appearance, when Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the N.S.A., leaked pages and pages of classified N.S.A. documents. They showed that, for the past twelve years, the agency has been running programs that secretly collect detailed information about the phone and Internet usage of Americans. The programs have been plagued by compliance issues, and the legal arguments justifying the surveillance regime have been kept from view. Wyden has long been aware of the programs and of the agency’s appalling compliance record, and has tried everything short of disclosing classified information to warn the public. At the March panel, he looked down at Clapper as if he were about to eat a long-delayed meal.
Wyden estimates that he gets about fifteen minutes a year to ask questions of top intelligence officials at open hearings. With the help of his intelligence staffer, John Dickas, a thirty-five-year-old from Beaverton, Oregon, whom Wyden calls “the hero of the intelligence-reform movement,” Wyden often spends weeks preparing his questions. He and Dickas look for opportunities to interrogate officials on the gaps between what they say in public and what they say in classified briefings. At a technology conference in Nevada the previous summer, General Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., had said that “the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is absolutely false.” Wyden told me recently, “It sure didn’t sound like the world I heard about in private.” For months, he tried to get a clarification from the N.S.A. about exactly what Alexander had meant. Now he had the opportunity to ask Clapper in public. As a courtesy, he had sent him the question the day before.
Wyden leaned forward and read Alexander’s comment. Then he asked, “What I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question ‘Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?’ ”
Clapper slouched in his chair. He touched the fingertips of his right hand to his forehead and made a fist with his left hand.
“No, sir,” he said. He gave a quick shake of his head and looked down at the table.
“It does not?” Wyden asked, with exaggerated surprise.
“Not wittingly,” Clapper replied. He started scratching his forehead and looked away from Wyden. “There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”
Wyden told me, “The answer was obviously misleading, false.” Feinstein said, “I was startled by the answer.” In Washington, Snowden’s subsequent leaks created the most intense debate about the tradeoffs between national security and individual liberty since the attacks of September 11th. The debate will likely continue. According to Feinstein, Snowden took “millions of pages” of documents. Only a small fraction have become public. Under directions that the White House issued in June, Clapper declassified hundreds of pages of additional N.S.A. documents about the domestic-surveillance programs, and these have only begun to be examined by the press. They present a portrait of an intelligence agency that has struggled but often failed to comply with court-imposed rules established to monitor its most sensitive activities. The N.S.A. is generally authorized to collect any foreign intelligence it wants—including conversations from the cell phone of Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel—but domestic surveillance is governed by strict laws. Since 2001, the N.S.A. has run four surveillance programs that, in an effort to detect terrorist plots, have swept up the contents of the phone and Internet communications of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and collected the telephone and Internet metadata of many more Americans. (Metadata is data about data. For telephone records, it can include numbers dialled, the date, time, and length of calls, and the unique identification of a cell phone. Internet metadata can include e-mail and I.P. addresses, along with location information, Web sites visited, and many other electronic traces left when a person goes online.)
Soon after the March hearing, Dickas called a senior member of Clapper’s staff and requested that Clapper acknowledge that his statement had been wrong. Through his staff member, Clapper declined. In July, however, after Snowden’s leaks, Clapper finally wrote to the committee and offered a formal retraction: “My response was clearly erroneous, for which I apologize.” Wyden told me, “There is not a shred of evidence that the statement ever would’ve been corrected absent the Snowden disclosures.”
Wyden is now working on a bill that would ban the mass collection of phone records and reform the court that oversees the N.S.A.’s domestic surveillance. Feinstein, who has resisted most of Wyden’s efforts at disclosure over the years, has put forward her own legislation, which would authorize the N.S.A. to continue bulk collection. Wyden dismisses her bill as “cosmetic stuff that just puts the old wine in a new bottle.” Feinstein counters that it “puts some very stringent parameters on” the program. She adds, “Senator Wyden also calls it a ‘surveillance program.’ It’s not a surveillance program—it is a data-collection program.”
Feinstein and Clapper insist that Wyden’s latest proposals would deprive the N.S.A. of crucial tools that it uses to disrupt terrorist plots. President Obama has been mostly silent on the issue. In August, he appointed a five-person panel to review intelligence policy, and the group is scheduled to issue recommendations by the end of the year. His decisions about what changes to endorse could determine whether his Presidency is remembered for rolling back one of the most controversial national-security policies of the Bush years or codifying it.
Wyden, who said that he has had “several spirited discussions” with Obama, is not optimistic. “It really seems like General Clapper, the intelligence leadership, and the lawyers drive this in terms of how decisions get made at the White House,” he told me. It is evident from the Snowden leaks that Obama inherited a regime of dragnet surveillance that often operated outside the law and raised serious constitutional questions. Instead of shutting down or scaling back the programs, Obama has worked to bring them into narrow compliance with rules—set forth by a court that operates in secret—that often contradict the views on surveillance that he strongly expressed when he was a senator and a Presidential candidate.
“These are profoundly different visions,” Wyden said, referring to his disagreements with Obama, Feinstein, and senior intelligence officials. “I start with the proposition that security and liberty are not mutually exclusive.” He noted that General Alexander had an “exceptionally expansive vision” of what the N.S.A. should collect. I asked Wyden for his opinion of the members of the review panel, most of whom are officials with ties to the intelligence establishment. He smiled and raised his eyebrows. An aide said, “Hope springs eternal.”
I—IS IT LEGAL?
In 1961, when John F. Kennedy took office, he inherited a scheme from his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, to invade Cuba with a small band of exiles and overthrow Fidel Castro. The plot, devised by the C.I.A. and carried out in April of that year, was a disaster: the invading forces, shepherded by C.I.A. operatives, were killed or captured, and Castro’s stature increased.
The failed plot is richly documented in a 1979 book, “Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story,” written by Senator Wyden’s father, Peter. At the time of its release, the book, which won an Overseas Press Club award, was the most comprehensive account of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. (During a six-hour interview with Peter Wyden, Castro marvelled that the author “knows more about it than we do.”) One recent morning, when Ron Wyden and I were sitting in his office discussing the N.S.A., he leaped out of his chair and walked across the room to a small bookshelf. “I want to show you something,” he said, and handed me a tattered copy of his father’s book. It describes how the C.I.A.’s arrogance and obsessive secrecy, combined with Kennedy’s naïveté, led a young President to embrace a wildly flawed policy, resulting in an incident that the author likens to “Waterloo staged by the Marx Brothers.” In Ron Wyden’s view, the book explains a great deal about the modern intelligence community and his approach to its oversight.
Wyden, a former college-basketball player, is a gangly six feet four and speaks in an incongruous high-pitched voice. He grew up in Palo Alto, California, and graduated from Stanford, where his mother was a librarian. He went to law school at the University of Oregon and, in 1972, worked as a volunteer on the campaign of Senator Wayne Morse. Morse, an Oregon Democrat, had been one of two senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, eight years earlier, and became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. The position had cost him the ’68 race; the Republican Bob Packwood won. “Perhaps more than any other political figure I’ve either been around or studied, Morse embodied a sense of independence,” Wyden said. “I thought, This is what public service is supposed to be about.”
Wyden was Morse’s expert on issues important to seniors in Oregon, and he later set up the Oregon chapter of the Gray Panthers, an organization that fought for seniors’ rights. One of the earliest national newspaper stories about Wyden, which ran in the Times on January 7, 1979, described a victory that elderly Oregonians won in the state legislature, where a Wyden-backed plan to allow non-dentists to fit and sell dentures was approved. “I think the measure really shows that senior citizens have bulging political biceps,” Wyden told the Times.
The next year, at thirty-one, Wyden won a U.S. House seat in a Portland district. Although he focussed on domestic issues, he entered politics just as major changes were taking place in the intelligence agencies. In the nineteen-seventies, a Senate committee chaired by Frank Church revealed widespread abuses at the N.S.A., the C.I.A., and other agencies, including active programs to spy on Americans. An N.S.A. program called Project SHAMROCK, which started shortly after the Second World War, had persuaded three major American telegraph companies to hand over most of their traffic. By the time the program was shut down, in 1975, the N.S.A. had collected information on some seventy-five thousand citizens. For many years, the information was shared with the C.I.A., which was running its own illegal domestic-intelligence program, Operation CHAOS.
The Church committee recommended not only sweeping reform of the laws governing the intelligence community but also a new system of oversight. Senator Walter Mondale, a member of the committee, said he worried about “another day and another President, another perceived risk and someone breathing hot down the neck of the military leader then in charge of the N.S.A.” Under those circumstances, he feared, the N.S.A. “could be used by President ‘A’ in the future to spy upon the American people.” He urged Congress to “very carefully define the law.” In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which forbade the intelligence agencies to spy on anyone in the U.S. unless they had probable cause to believe that the person was a “foreign power or the agent of a foreign power.” The law set up the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and, in 1976, Congress created the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The N.S.A. and other spy agencies are instructed to keep the committee, as well as a similar one in the House, “fully and currently informed.”
In 1995, Packwood resigned, after numerous women accused him of sexual harassment and assault, and Wyden won a special election, in 1996, to replace him. In early 2001, he landed a spot on the Intelligence Committee. His father had told him about how the intelligence community had stonewalled his requests for basic information for his book. Wyden soon encountered that opacity himself, he told me, especially after September 11th: “That really changed the debate.”
On October 13, 2001, fifty computer servers arrived at the N.S.A.’s headquarters, in Fort Meade, Maryland. The vender concealed the identity of the N.S.A. by selling the servers to other customers and then delivering the shipments to the spy agency under police escort. According to a 2009 working draft of a report by the N.S.A.’s inspector general, which Snowden provided to Glenn Greenwald, of the Guardian, their arrival marked the start of four of the most controversial surveillance programs in the agency’s history—programs that, for the most part, are ongoing. At the time, the operation was code-named STARBURST.
In the days after 9/11, General Michael Hayden, the director of the N.S.A., was under intense pressure to intercept communications between Al Qaeda leaders abroad and potential terrorists inside the U.S. According to the inspector general’s report, George Tenet, the director of the C.I.A., told Hayden that Vice-President Dick Cheney wanted to know “if N.S.A. could be doing more.” Hayden noted the limitations of the FISA law, which prevented the N.S.A. from indiscriminately collecting electronic communications of Americans. The agency was legally vacuuming up just about any foreign communications it wanted. But when it targeted one side of a call or an e-mail that involved someone in the U.S. the spy agency had to seek permission from the FISA court to conduct surveillance. Tenet later called Hayden back: Cheney wanted to know what else the N.S.A. might be able to do if Hayden was given authority that was not currently in the law.
Hayden resurrected a plan from the Clinton years. In the late fall of 1999, a large body of intelligence suggested that Osama bin Laden was planning multiple attacks around New Year’s Eve. The Clinton Administration was desperate to discover links between Al Qaeda operatives and potential terrorists in the U.S., and N.S.A. engineers had an idea that they called “contact chaining.” The N.S.A. had collected a trove of telephone metadata. According to the N.S.A. report, “Analysts would chain through masked U.S. telephone numbers to discover foreign connections to those numbers.”
Officials apparently believed that, because the U.S. numbers were hidden, even from the analysts, the idea might pass legal scrutiny. But the Justice Department thought otherwise, and in December of 1999 it advised the N.S.A. that the plan was tantamount to electronic surveillance under FISA: it was illegal for the N.S.A. to rummage through the phone records of Americans without a probable cause. Nonetheless, the concept of bulk collection and analysis of metadata was born. During several meetings at the White House in the fall of 2001, Hayden told Cheney that the FISA law was outdated. To collect the content of communications (what someone says in a phone call or writes in an e-mail) or the metadata of phone and Internet communications if one or both parties to the communication were in the U.S., he needed approval from the fisa court. Obtaining court orders usually took four to six weeks, and even emergency orders, which were sometimes granted, took a day or more. Hayden and Cheney discussed ways the N.S.A. could collect content and metadata without a court order.
The Vice-President’s lawyer, David Addington, drafted language authorizing the N.S.A. to collect four streams of data without the FISA court’s permission: the content of Internet and phone communications, and Internet and phone metadata. The White House secretly argued that Bush was allowed to circumvent the FISA law governing domestic surveillance thanks to the extraordinary power granted by Congress’s resolution, on September 14th, declaring war against Al Qaeda. On October 4th, Bush signed the surveillance authorization. It became known inside the government as the P.S.P., the President’s Surveillance Program. Tenet authorized an initial twenty-five million dollars to fund it. Hayden stored the document in his office safe.
Over the weekend of October 6, 2001, the three major telephone companies—A. T. & T., Verizon, and BellSouth, which for decades have had classified relationships with the N.S.A.—began providing wiretap recordings of N.S.A. targets. The content of e-mails followed shortly afterward. By November, a couple of weeks after the secret computer servers were delivered, phone and Internet metadata from the three phone companies began flowing to the N.S.A. servers over classified lines or on compact disks. Twenty N.S.A. employees, working around the clock in a new Metadata Analysis Center, at the agency’s headquarters, conducted the kind of sophisticated contact chaining of terrorist networks that the Clinton Justice Department had disallowed. On October 31st, the cover term for the program was changed to STELLARWIND.
Nearly everyone involved wondered whether the program was legal. Hayden didn’t ask his own general counsel, Robert Deitz, for his opinion until after Bush signed the order. (Deitz told Hayden he believed that it was legal.) John Yoo, a Justice Department lawyer, wrote a legal opinion, the full text of which has never been disclosed, arguing that the plan was legal. When Deitz tried to obtain the text, Addington refused his request but read him some excerpts over the phone. Hayden never asked for the official legal opinion and never saw it, according to the inspector general’s report. In May, 2002, the N.S.A. briefed Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the incoming chief of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, about the program. She was shown a short memo from the Department of Justice defending its legality, but wasn’t allowed to keep a copy. The N.S.A.’s inspector general later said he found it “strange that N.S.A. was told to execute a secret program that everyone knew presented legal questions, without being told the underpinning legal theory.”
Meanwhile, Wyden, on the Intelligence Committee, found himself involved in the first debate about the U.S.A. Patriot Act, a law that the Bush White House pushed through Congress in October, 2001, and which included major changes to FISA. Tucked into the bill, in Section 215, was something called the “business records” provision. It allowed the government to seize “any tangible thing” from a company as long as officials proved to the FISA court that the item was “sought for an investigation to protect against international terrorism.”
Of the many new powers that Congress granted law enforcement through the Patriot Act—roving wiretaps, delayed-notice search warrants—this was not the most controversial provision at the time. It was often innocuously described as the “library records” provision, conjuring the notion that the government should know if someone is checking out bomb-making books. Some members of Congress were satisfied with the wording because Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican who was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and who wrote the Patriot Act, had defeated an effort by the Bush White House to make the provision even more expansive. Wyden voted for the legislation, which included the most substantial modifications of FISA since 1978, when it was enacted, but he helped attach “sunsets” to many provisions, including Section 215, that hadn’t been thoroughly examined: in five years, Congress would have to vote again, to reauthorize them. As Wyden later wrote, “The idea was that these provisions would be more thoughtfully debated at a later, less panicked time.” The Patriot Act passed overwhelmingly. (Russ Feingold, of Wisconsin, was the only senator to oppose it.)
Three months later, the Defense Department started a new program with the Orwellian name Total Information Awareness. T.I.A. was based inside the Pentagon’s Information Awareness Office, which was headed by Admiral John Poindexter. In the nineteen-eighties, Poindexter had been convicted, and then acquitted, of perjury for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He wanted to create a system that could mine a seemingly infinite number of government and private-sector databases in order to detect suspicious activity and preëmpt attacks. The T.I.A. system was intended to collect information about the faces, fingerprints, irises, and even the gait of suspicious people. In 2002 and 2003, Wyden attacked the program as a major affront to privacy rights and urged that it be shut down.
In the summer of 2003, while Congress debated a crucial vote on the future of the plan, Wyden instructed an intern to sift through the Pentagon’s documents about T.I.A. The intern discovered that one of the program’s ideas was to create a futures market in which anonymous users could place bets on events such as assassinations and terrorist attacks, and get paid on the basis of whether the events occurred. Wyden called Byron Dorgan, a Democratic senator from North Dakota, who was also working to kill the program. “Byron, we’ve got what we need to win this,” he told him. “You and I should make this public.” Twenty-four hours after they exposed the futures-market idea at a press conference, Total Information Awareness was dead. Poindexter soon resigned.
It was Wyden’s first real victory on the Intelligence Committee. “If you spend enough time digging into these documents and doing the work, it can pay off,” Wyden told me. “The one advantage that I have, being on the Intelligence Committee, is a chance to get access to information. But you really have to fight for it.”
In the first season of “Homeland,” the Showtime drama about the C.I.A. and terrorism, the protagonist, an agent named Carrie Mathison, conducts warrantless surveillance on an American whom she suspects is a terrorist. Saul Berenson, her boss at the C.I.A., realizes that it’s problematic, so he persuades a judge on the FISA court to give the operation the court’s legal imprimatur. Like many of the show’s plot twists, the episode seemed implausible. But it is a pale shadow of what happened with the Bush-era surveillance programs. Between 2001 and 2007, according to the inspector general’s report, before the four STELLARWIND programs had all gained a legal legitimacy, the N.S.A. wiretapped more than twenty-six hundred American telephones and four hundred American e-mail accounts, and collected phone and Internet metadata from hundreds of millions more.
During that time, an expanding circle of people in Washington, including members of Congress, lawyers at the Justice Department, reporters, and, eventually, the public, gradually became aware of the Bush programs. Jay Rockefeller, then the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, was one of the first officials to express dissent. On July 17, 2003, Rockefeller came back shaken from a White House meeting with Cheney, who had briefed him on the N.S.A. programs. While Congress was shutting down the Total Information Awareness program, the four phone- and Internet-spying programs under STELLARWIND had been up and running for about two years. Rockefeller drafted a handwritten letter to Cheney. “Clearly, the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues,” he wrote. “As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities. As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance.”
Some Administration officials were concerned, too. In early March of 2004, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who was serving as the acting Attorney General while John Ashcroft was in the hospital, determined that three of the four STELLARWIND programs were legal, but that the program involving the bulk collection of Internet metadata was not. Cheney summoned Comey to the White House and tried to change his mind, telling him that his decision would put thousands of lives at risk. Comey wouldn’t budge. Bush then sent two top White House aides to the hospital to visit Ashcroft, who was in the intensive-care unit after surgery. Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey, and the White House decided that Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s counsel, would sign a new authorization instead. Addington called Hayden the following day to make sure that he would accept the document despite the opposition of the Justice Department. “Will you do it?” he asked, according to the N.S.A. report. Hayden told me that he agreed, because he “had multiple previous such orders from D.O.J.” and “strong congressional support,” and also had in mind “the deaths of nearly two hundred Spaniards that morning in an Al Qaeda terrorist attack in Madrid.”
Lawyers many tiers below the Attorney General slowly became aware that the N.S.A. was working on something that people referred to simply as “the program.” Not long after Comey’s refusal, one Justice lawyer, Thomas M. Tamm, picked up a pay phone in a Metro station and called the Times. He told the newspaper everything he knew about STELLARWIND. As the paper began investigating Tamm’s allegations, the N.S.A. decided that the STELLARWIND programs needed a legal justification that carried more weight than a letter from the President. Like the C.I.A.’s Saul Berenson in “Homeland,” the agency asked the FISA court to make the programs legal. (As of March 26th, the Internet-metadata program had been suspended.) According to the N.S.A. report, lawyers at the N.S.A. and the Justice Department “immediately began efforts to re-create this authority.”
Over the summer, on two consecutive Saturdays, Hayden met with Judge Kollar-Kotelly, of the FISA court, to press for new authority to run the Internet-metadata program. On July 14, 2004, she gave her assent. She cited a contentious 1979 Supreme Court case, Smith v. Maryland, which held that police could place a type of monitor called a “pen register” on a suspect’s phone without a warrant. But the order didn’t target a single device; it allowed the N.S.A. to collect the metadata of all U.S. devices communicating with devices outside the U.S. According to the N.S.A. report, “The order essentially gave N.S.A. the same authority to collect bulk Internet metadata that it had under the P.S.P.,” Bush’s original, warrantless plan. (Later, Judge Kollar-Kotelly reportedly expressed misgivings about the N.S.A.’s misuse of the program, even shutting it down at one point, when she learned that the N.S.A. might have been overstepping its authority.)
On December 16, 2005, the Times broke the news about some aspects of the President’s four-pronged surveillance program. After the story appeared, Bush addressed the country to defend the P.S.P., calling it the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” He claimed that it had been “thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and N.S.A.’s top legal officials,” and that N.S.A. analysts “receive extensive training to insure they perform their duties consistent with the letter and intent of the authorization.” Wyden didn’t know whether to be more shocked by the details of the N.S.A. program or by the way he learned about it. “I read about it in the New York Times,” he told me.
The Times had uncovered many details about the two programs that collected the content of e-mails and phone calls, and won a Pulitzer for its investigation, but the two metadata programs run by the N.S.A. were still largely unknown, even to most members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Some details of the metadata programs soon appeared in the Times, in USA Today, and in a story by Seymour Hersh in this magazine. But the Bush Administration never officially confirmed the existence of the programs, which remained secret until this year.
II—OBAMA SIGNS ON
Even without a full picture of the programs, two senators who were not on the Intelligence Committee became intense critics of N.S.A. domestic surveillance: Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In May, 2006, after the USA Today article appeared, Biden said it was frightening to learn that the government was collecting telephone records. “I don’t have to listen to your phone calls to know what you’re doing,” he told CBS News. “If I know every single phone call you made, I’m able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive.”
Obama’s objections to domestic surveillance stretched back even further. In 2003, as a Senate candidate, he called the Patriot Act “shoddy and dangerous.” And at the 2004 Democratic Convention, in the speech that effectively launched his eventual campaign for President, he took aim at the “library records” provision of the law. “We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states,” he declared. In 2005, when he arrived in Washington, Obama became one of Wyden’s new allies in his attempts to reform the law. The Patriot Act was up for reauthorization, and, at Wyden’s urging, the Senate was trying to scale back the “library records” section. One of the first bills that Obama co-sponsored, the Security and Freedom Enhancement Act, would have required that the government present “specific and articulable facts” if it wanted a court order for records, a much higher standard than the existing one.
Obama and several other senators, including John Kerry, now the Secretary of State, and Chuck Hagel, the current Secretary of Defense, laid out their legal case against the provision in a letter to colleagues on December 14, 2005. The government could “obtain library, medical and gun records and other sensitive personal information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act on a mere showing that those records are relevant to an authorized intelligence investigation,” they wrote. It allowed “government fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans. We believe the government should be required to convince a judge that the records they are seeking have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy.” The following day, on the Senate floor, Obama said that the provision “seriously jeopardizes the rights of all Americans and the ideals America stands for.”
The Bush White House fought Obama’s changes, but offered a few minor concessions. Most notably, a business that received a demand for records could challenge in court a nondisclosure agreement that accompanied the demand. That was enough to placate some Democrats, including Obama. Wyden objected that the change did nothing to address Obama’s concerns, but the reauthorization of the Patriot Act passed the Senate on March 1, 2006. Wyden, eight other Democrats, and one Independent voted against it; Obama and Biden voted for it. Bush signed the law on March 9th.
Wyden later learned that, while he and Obama were fighting to curtail Section 215, the N.S.A.’s lawyers were secretly arguing before the FISA court that the provision should allow the N.S.A. to legally collect the phone records of all Americans. The lawyers, encouraged by their success in retroactively legalizing the Internet-metadata program, believed that they could persuade the FISA court to force phone companies to regularly hand over their entire databases. At the FISA court, there are no lawyers challenging the government’s arguments; all the N.S.A. needed to do was convince a single judge. Had Obama’s language been adopted, the N.S.A.’s case would have collapsed.
Just after noon on May 24, 2006, the FISA court issued a secret opinion ratifying the N.S.A.’s audacious proposal. It became known as the Business Records Order. That bland language concealed the fact that the court’s opinion dramatically reinterpreted the scope of the “library records” provision. The FISA court essentially gave the N.S.A. authority to place a pen register on everyone’s phone. Anytime an American citizen makes a call, it is logged into an N.S.A. database. The court required some new oversight by the Justice Department and new rules for accessing the database, but it was a nearly complete victory for the agency. The change was unknown to most members of Congress, including Obama and Wyden, who had just finished debating the Patriot Act. “What do I know?” Wyden would tell people who asked him about sensitive national-security issues. “I’m only on the Intelligence Committee.”
At the time, the public and Congress were understandably focussed on Bush’s warrantless wiretapping, and only a few officials understood the full details of the phone-metadata program. Wyden began asking questions. In June, 2006, after some stonewalling, the Bush Administration began providing summary briefings to the committee about the program. Wyden wasn’t allowed to bring any staff, and the N.S.A. didn’t respond to many of his follow-up questions. It wasn’t until the next January, after the Democrats took over Congress and were able to change the rules so that Wyden could bring Dickas to the briefings, that he fully understood what the agency was doing with the Business Records Order. He was stunned. “Look at the gap between what people think the law is and how it’s been secretly interpreted,” he said. “Holy Toledo!”
The National Counterterrorism Center is in an X-shaped building, known as Liberty Crossing, that is disguised as a suburban office park. It sits on a hill a few miles from C.I.A. headquarters, in northern Virginia. The center was created in 2003, at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which concluded that the attacks might have been prevented if the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. had done a better job of sharing intelligence. At the base of the flagpole at the N.C.T.C.’s main entrance is a concrete jigsaw puzzle that represents the organization’s central mission: fitting together the seemingly random pieces of intelligence that flow into Liberty Crossing from the N.S.A., the C.I.A., the F.B.I., and other agencies.
The director of the N.C.T.C. since 2011 has been Matthew G. Olsen, a former federal prosecutor. He is a young-looking fifty-one, despite his hair, which has thinned and become grayer since he took his current job. Down the hall from his office is a door marked “Weapons, Tactics, and Targets Group,” which is part of the N.C.T.C.’s Directorate of Intelligence. The N.C.T.C. helps prepare the target lists, sometimes called kill lists, of terrorists who must be approved by Obama as legitimate threats in order to be the object of C.I.A. drone strikes. In a recent dissertation about the N.C.T.C., a former C.I.A. analyst, Bridget Rose Nolan, quoted a colleague who described the process as: “You track ’em, we whack ’em.” The day after I visited, in mid-November, a drone over Pakistan that sought to strike a terrorist compound fired three missiles that Pakistani officials claimed hit a madrassa and killed six people.
Olsen is one of the few high-level national-security officials to have dealt with the legal issues of the N.S.A.’s programs in both the Bush and the Obama Administrations, and he offers a fair reflection of how the current President and his top advisers approach them. In September, 2006, Olsen moved to the Justice Department’s new National Security Division, which was charged with overseeing the increasingly complex FISA cases concerning the N.S.A. He led a hundred lawyers in what was then called the Office of Intelligence Policy Review, which did all the preparatory work for the FISA court. Olsen started four months after the court secretly legalized the phone-metadata program. “I didn’t know any of it before I took the job,” he told me. “Only a handful of people in the entire government knew anything about it.”
Two weeks into the job, Olsen received his first assignment from lawyers at the N.S.A. The N.S.A. had been lobbying the FISA court to approve its four domestic-surveillance programs. The two metadata programs had been O.K.’ed; now Olsen and his colleagues had to persuade the FISA judge to make the phone and e-mail wiretapping programs legal. He did not see the job as especially controversial.
“It was a huge policy debate, one of the biggest ones post-9/11, and we’re still having it,” he said. “But at the time I felt like a lawyer who’d been handed a problem at a very tactical level: How do we figure this out? What are the legal rules we’re applying? What are the facts? How do we work with the N.S.A.?” He added, “I thought the goal was actually quite laudable. I was pleased to have the opportunity to work on an important thing, and I thought, Yes, if we could figure out a way to put this on a more firm legal footing, whether through judicial authority or legislative authority, that would be quite an important achievement, and it would be better for the country.”
The legal case for phone and Internet wiretapping was harder to make than the arguments concerning metadata. The Supreme Court had ruled in 1979 that metadata was not covered by the Fourth Amendment, but the content of phone calls and e-mails certainly was. Since 9/11, the N.S.A. had largely ignored the law requiring it to get a warrant for each domestic target whose content it collected. The FISA court was not impressed with Olsen’s attempt to justify legalizing the program. It issued new rules that vastly reduced the amount of collection from foreign phone and Internet sources. Olsen and his team tried different legal theories, but the court balked. Eventually, he and his colleagues decided that Bush would have to go to Congress instead and ask for legislation to amend the FISA law.
In 2008, Olsen helped lobby Congress to approve a new system that would curtail the fiSA court’s role and allow the N.S.A. to intercept enormous numbers of communications to and from the U.S. The FISA court had only to review and certify the over-all system that the N.S.A. would use; it no longer had to approve each target. Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 on July 9th. All four Bush programs now had legal cover.
In the Senate Intelligence Committee, only Wyden and Feingold voted against the new FISA law. They were troubled by the central provision—Section 702—which created the new system governing N.S.A. surveillance of phone and Internet content. “I am one of the few members of this body who has been fully briefed on the warrantless-wiretapping program,” Feingold said at the time, in a speech on the Senate floor. “I can promise that if more information is declassified about the program in the future, as is likely to happen . . . members of this body will regret that we passed this legislation.” Wyden was reassured when Obama was elected President. Although Obama had voted for the new law, he promised at the time of the vote that, if he became President, his Attorney General would immediately “conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs.”
In February of 2009, days after Obama was sworn in, Olsen and Benjamin Powell, a Bush holdover and the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, went to the White House to brief the new President and Eric Holder, the new Attorney General, on the N.S.A.’s programs. There was no way to know how Obama would react. During the campaign, Holder, who was serving as a top legal adviser to Obama, had said that Bush’s original surveillance program operated in “direct defiance of federal law.” Obama had sponsored the legislation curbing the authority of the business-records provision, which was now crucial to the N.S.A. Greg Craig, Obama’s White House counsel, was also at the meeting. Because Obama had not been a member of the Intelligence Committee, much of the information was new to him. Powell, who led the briefing, and Olsen also had some news: the FISA court had just ruled that the phone-records program had so many compliance issues that the court was threatening to shut it down. The court was waiting for a response from the new Administration about how to proceed.
Olsen had recently discovered that for the previous two and a half years, the period when the phone-metadata program was supposed to have followed strict new procedures laid out by the FISA court, the N.S.A. had been operating it in violation of those procedures—and had misled the court about it. The N.S.A. was supposed to search its archive of metadata only after it had determined that there was a “reasonable, articulable suspicion”—RAS—to believe that the phone number or other search term was related to terrorism.
RAS was the thin wall between a legal program with some oversight and one with the potential for domestic spying and tremendous privacy violations. It was what prevented an analyst from querying the database for his girlfriend’s personal information or for a Tea Party activist’s network of contacts or for a journalist’s sources. Since 2006, in numerous filings before the FISA court, the N.S.A. had falsely sworn that every search term was RAS-approved. The agency had built a list of some eighteen thousand phone numbers and other search terms that it continuously checked against the metadata as it flowed into the N.S.A.’s servers. Of these, it turned out, fewer than two thousand had legal legitimacy. Thousands of the unauthorized search terms were associated with Americans. On January 15th, Olsen had informed the FISA court of the problem.
Reggie Walton, the FISA judge overseeing the program at that time, wrote, in an opinion on January 28th, that he was “exceptionally concerned” that the N.S.A. had been operating the program in “flagrant violation” of the court’s orders and “directly contrary” to the N.S.A.’s own “sworn attestations.” Walton was considering rescinding the N.S.A.’s authority to run the program, and was contemplating bringing contempt charges against officials who misled the court or perhaps referring the matter to “appropriate investigative offices.” He gave Olsen three weeks to explain why the court shouldn’t just shut down the program. The controversy was known at the court as the “ ‘big business’ records matter.”
At the White House, Olsen and Powell told Obama of the problems. “I want my lawyers to look into this,” Obama said. He pointed at Holder and Craig. Olsen believed that the N.S.A. simply had difficulty translating the court’s legal language into technical procedures; it could all be fixed. Wyden believed that the court never should have allowed the N.S.A. to collect the data in the first place. In his view, the court’s unusually harsh opinion gave Obama an opportunity to terminate the program.
“That was a very, very significant moment in the debate,” Wyden told me. “Everybody who had been raising questions had been told, ‘The FISA court’s on top of this! Everything that’s being done, the FISA court has given the O.K. to!’ And then we learned that the N.S.A. was routinely violating the court orders that authorized bulk collection. In early 2009, it was clear that the N.S.A.’s claims about bulk-collection programs and how carefully those programs were managed simply were not accurate.”
On February 17th, about two weeks after the White House briefing, Olsen, in a secret court filing, made the new Administration’s first official statement about Bush’s phone-metadata program: “The government respectfully submits that the Court should not rescind or modify the authority.” He cited a sworn statement from Keith Alexander, who had replaced Hayden as the director of the N.S.A. in 2005, and who insisted that the program was essential. “Using contact chaining,” Olsen wrote, “N.S.A. may be able to discover previously unknown telephone identifiers used by a known terrorist operative . . . to identify hubs or common contacts between targets of interest who were previously thought to be unconnected, and potentially to discover individuals willing to become US Government assets.”
Judge Walton replied that he was still troubled by the N.S.A.’s “material misrepresentations” to the court, and that Alexander’s explanation for how they happened “strains credulity.” He noted that the FISA court’s orders “have been so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that” the N.S.A. program “has never functioned effectively” and that “thousands of violations” occurred. The judge placed new restrictions on the program and ordered the agency to conduct a full audit, but he agreed to keep it running. Olsen, and Obama, had saved Bush’s surveillance program.
It was the first in a series of decisions by Obama to institutionalize some of the most controversial national-security policies of the Bush Administration. Faced with a long list of policies to roll back—torture, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of the prison at Guantánamo Bay to hold suspected terrorists—reining in the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs might have seemed like a low priority. As core members of Al Qaeda were killed, the danger shifted to terrorists who were less organized and more difficult to detect, making the use of the N.S.A.’s powerful surveillance tools even more seductive. “That’s why the N.S.A. tools remain crucial,” Olsen told me. “Because the threat is evolving and becoming more diverse.”
Feinstein said, “It is very difficult to permeate the vast number of terrorist groups that now loosely associate themselves with Al Qaeda or Al Nusra or any other group. It is very difficult, because of language and culture and dialect, to really use human intelligence. This really leaves us with electronic intelligence.”
The N.S.A.’s assurances that the programs were necessary seemed to have been taken at face value. The new President viewed the compliance problems as a narrow issue of law; it was the sole responsibility of the FISA court, not the White House, to oversee the programs. “Far too often, the position that policy makers have taken has been that if the intelligence agencies want to do it then the only big question is ‘Is it legal?’ ” Wyden said. “And if government lawyers or the fisa court secretly decides that the answer is yes, then the intelligence agencies are allowed to go ahead and do it. And there never seems to be a policy debate about whether the intelligence agencies should be allowed to do literally anything they can get the fisa court to secretly agree to.”
Any doubts about the new Administration’s position were removed when Obama turned down a second chance to stop the N.S.A. from collecting domestic phone records. The business-records provision of the Patriot Act was up for renewal, and Congress wanted to know the Administration’s position.
It was one thing to have the Justice Department defend the program in court. But now Obama had to decide whether he would publicly embrace a section of the Patriot Act that he had criticized in his most famous speech and that he had tried to rewrite as a senator. He would have to do so knowing that the main government program authorized by the business-records provision was beset by problems. On September 14th, Obama publicly revealed that he wanted the provision renewed without any changes. “At the time of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, there was concern that the F.B.I. would exploit the broad scope of the business-records authority to collect sensitive personal information on constitutionally protected activities, such as the use of public libraries,” a Justice Department official wrote in a letter to Congress, alluding to one of Obama’s former concerns. “This simply has not occurred.” The letter, which was unclassified, did not explain the details of the metadata program or the spiralling compliance issues uncovered by the court.
Wyden’s early hope, that Obama represented a new approach to surveillance law, had been misguided. “I realized I had a lot more to do to show the White House that this constant deferring to the leadership of the intelligence agencies on fundamental policy issues was not going to get the job done,” he said.
III—A QUESTION OF PRIVACY
In December, 2009, Wyden met with Vice-President Biden and explained his case against the bulk collection of phone records and the Administration’s Bush-like secrecy about the programs. By now Wyden had become known for his independent streak, which some colleagues saw as grandstanding. On the Intelligence Committee, staffers complained that his readiness to question his colleagues’ commitment to the Constitution was so self-righteous that it sometimes backfired when he was trying to garner support.
“I was trying to convey the urgency of the situation,” Wyden said of his meeting with Biden. “There was an opportunity here to strike a balance that did more to protect liberty and security.” As the deadline to renew the business-records provision approached, the Administration finally agreed to provide the entire Congress with details about the metadata programs. On December 14th, the Justice Department sent a five-page classified document explaining them. Most members of the House and the Senate were learning about them for the first time. The document was kept in secure rooms for a limited period of time; no copies were allowed and no notes could be removed. If members of Congress had any questions, executive-branch officials were available at designated times to chat.
In general, the document described the programs accurately. But, in a section on “compliance issues,” the Administration withheld significant details. Months earlier, the phone-metadata program had come close to being stopped. Obama officials reported this episode to Congress in far less dire terms. “There have been a number of technical compliance problems and human implementation errors in these two bulk collection programs”—phone and Internet metadata—“discovered as a result of Department of Justice reviews and internal N.S.A. oversight,” the document said. There were no “intentional or bad-faith violations,” just glitches in “implementation of highly sophisticated technology in a complex and ever-changing communications environment,” which occasionally “resulted in the automated tools operating in a manner that was not completely consistent” with the FISA court’s orders. The Administration assured Congress that everything had been fixed. The N.S.A. had even created a new position, director of compliance, to keep an eye on things.
The debate ended on Christmas Day, 2009, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a twenty-three-year-old Nigerian man, on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear as the plane landed. Although he burned the wall of the airplane’s cabin—and his genitals—he failed to set off the device, a nonmetallic bomb made by Yemeni terrorists. Many intelligence officials said that the underwear bomber was a turning point for Obama.
“The White House people felt it in their gut with a visceralness that they did not before,” Michael Leiter, who was then the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said. The center was sharply criticized for not detecting the attack. “It’s not that they thought terrorism was over and it was done with,” Leiter said, “but until you experience your first concrete attack on the homeland, not to mention one that becomes a huge political firestorm—that changes your outlook really quickly.” He added, “It encouraged them to be more aggressive with strikes”—drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan—“and even stronger supporters of maintaining things like the Patriot Act.”
Obama also became more determined to keep the programs secret. On January 5, 2010, Holder informed Wyden that the Administration wouldn’t reveal to the public details about the N.S.A.’s programs. He wrote, “The Intelligence Community has determined that information that would confirm or suggest that the United States engages in bulk records collection under Section 215, including that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) permits the collection of ‘large amounts of information’ that includes ‘significant amounts of information about U.S. Persons,’ must remain classified.” Wyden, in his reply to Holder a few weeks later, expressed his disappointment with the letter: “It did not mention the need to weigh national security interests against the public’s right to know, or acknowledge the privacy impact of relying on legal authorities that are being interpreted much more broadly than most Americans realize.” He said that “senior policymakers are generally deferring to intelligence officials on the handling of this issue.”
Rather than rely on private channels to persuade the White House to change course, he decided he would have to be more publicly aggressive from his perch on the Intelligence Committee. On February 24, 2010, the Senate, without debate, passed a one-year extension of the expiring Patriot Act provisions. The following day, the House passed the measure, 315–97. Obama signed it into law two days later. James Sensenbrenner, the author of the original Patriot Act, wrote recently in the Los Angeles Times that he and a majority of his colleagues in Congress did not know how the law was being used before they voted to endorse it.
Both politically and personally, the year 2010 was a turning point for Wyden. He won reëlection that November, receiving fifty-seven per cent of the vote, with the slogan “Ron Wyden: Different. Like Oregon.” In December, he was treated successfully for prostate cancer. But Russ Feingold, his friend and mentor on surveillance issues, was defeated by a Tea Party opponent. “It was a huge loss,” Wyden told me. “Senator Feingold and I talked at that time about how the mantle of liberty and privacy issues was going to be carried on without him.”
High-profile Tea Party libertarians such as Rand Paul, from Kentucky, and Mike Lee, from Utah, joined the Senate, and they prompted discussions about national-security law within the Republican Party. “We’re still a minority in the Republican caucus, but people are beginning to think about some of these things,” Senator Paul told me recently. In the House, there were dozens of small-government conservatives who opposed just about everything George W. Bush had been for, on both foreign and domestic policy.
In addition, in 2011 Mark Udall, a Democratic senator from Colorado, joined the Intelligence Committee. For years, Udall had served in the House and had a record as a skeptic about many post-9/11 security policies. “I voted against the original Patriot Act,” Udall told me. “I have a strong civil-libertarian streak and background. I’m well aware of some of the mistakes that we’ve made historically, whether it’s the Alien and Sedition Acts or the internment of Japanese-Americans or the warrantless wiretapping that went on under the previous Administration. As I watched that unfold in the last decade, I was more and more aware of Franklin’s great admonition that a society that will trade essential liberty for short-term security deserves neither.” Paul and Wyden joked that they might finally have enough senators to start what they called the Ben Franklin caucus.
In early 2011, as Udall prepared for the new debate over the Patriot Act, he was shocked by what he learned. “It raised a series of red flags for me,” Udall said. “It made me realize that, much as I was enthralled by and impressed by what we do, I had also an equally important role to play, which was to ask questions, to provide oversight, and to remember the lessons of the past—which are that the intelligence community, without oversight, without limits, will do everything it possibly can to get everything it possibly can get its hands on. And we’ve come to regret that, historically.”
On May 26, 2011, Wyden delivered what he considered to be one of the most important speeches of his career. He is a strident and tenacious debater, a policy nerd who can overwhelm his opponents with details. “I’ve served on the Intelligence Committee for over a decade,” he said, standing in the well of the Senate during another debate over the Patriot Act. “And I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry. And they’re going to ask senators, ‘Did you know what this law actually permits?’ ‘Why didn’t you know before you voted on it?’ ” He reviewed the history of secret intelligence operations that inevitably became public: the C.I.A.’s illegal surveillance in the sixties, the Church committee’s investigation of the N.S.A.’s Project SHAMROCK, Iran-Contra, and Bush’s warrantless-wiretapping program. As Wyden recalled the history of each scandal, Dickas placed blown-up versions of news headlines on an easel: “Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. Against Antiwar Forces, Other Dissidents in Nixon Years,” “Senators Reveal U.S. Spies Read Millions of Telegrams,” “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts.”
After each episode that Wyden described, he asked, “Did the program stay a secret?,” and responded, “No.” The truth always comes out, he added, and, when it does, “the result is invariably a backlash and an erosion of public confidence in these government agencies.”
The 2011 Patriot Act extension passed the Senate later that day, and this time the controversial provisions were extended until 2015. But twenty-three senators—including Paul and Lee—and a hundred and fifty-three members of the House voted against the law. Wyden and Paul’s Ben Franklin caucus was growing.
Even as the Obama Administration publicly defended the Patriot Act and the shaky FISA opinions that propped up the secret surveillance regime, behind the scenes the N.S.A. was being challenged by the FISA court for violating its rules. Defending the programs on behalf of the Obama Administration again fell to Matthew Olsen, who now had a new job, as the N.S.A.’s general counsel.
In the spring of 2011, Olsen learned that the agency’s program for collecting the content of e-mails and phone calls—the one that he had worked on in 2006 and which was now known as Section 702—had a major problem. The N.S.A. had assured the FISA court that it did not intentionally capture domestic communications, and that, if it unintentionally did so, it had court-sanctioned procedures for disposing of them. That wasn’t true. The agency was actually collecting the domestic communications of tens of thousands of Americans: in some cases, the N.S.A. told the court, its filtering devices couldn’t weed out the material it was allowed to collect from the stuff it wasn’t. The agency called the problem “unintentional” and a “failure” of the N.S.A.’s “technical means.” The FISA court called it unconstitutional. Judge John D. Bates declared that the practice violated not only the specific federal law governing surveillance but the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure.
The FISA court also repeatedly rebuked the N.S.A. for its collection of Internet metadata. In one opinion, the court said that for years the “N.S.A. exceeded the scope of authorized acquisition continuously.” It also declared that the N.S.A.’s description of the program had been “untrue,” and that the government had engaged in “unauthorized” and “systemic overcollection,” had searched the system using terms that were “non-compliant with the required RAS approval process,” and had improperly disseminated intelligence about Americans derived from the database. In fact, the court said, almost every record “generated by this program included some data that had not been authorized for collection.” The court also noted that the N.S.A. program had conducted “unauthorized ‘electronic surveillance’ ” and had asked a FISA judge to “authorize the government to engage in conduct that Congress has unambiguously prohibited.”
Wyden, who had read the court opinions and knew the troubled history of the Internet-data program, pressed his advantage. Throughout the year, in correspondence that remains secret, he repeatedly challenged the N.S.A.’s contention that the program was effective. In late 2011, with little explanation, and despite the fact that, just months earlier, the N.S.A. had sworn in court and to Congress that the program was essential, the N.S.A. sent Wyden and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee a notification that it was indefinitely suspending the program.