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Missouri House Committee Holds Hearing on Bill to Ban Resources to Mass NSA Spying

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (April 24, 2015) – Last week, a Missouri House committee held a public hearing on a bill that would ban “material support or resources” from the state to warrantless federal spy programs. Continue reading Missouri House Committee Holds Hearing on Bill to Ban Resources to Mass NSA Spying

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Mainstream Press Embracing Strategy To Turn Off NSA Power and Water

The OffNow campaign to turn of material support and resources to the NSA and other federal agencies engaged in warrantless spying got some very positive mainstream media attention Wednesday.

Continue reading Mainstream Press Embracing Strategy To Turn Off NSA Power and Water

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License to Steal: Civil Forfeiture Implications of DEA-NSA Spy Program

By Eapen Thampy – Originally posted on Americans for Forfeiture Reform

The revelations that the DEA has a secret Special Operations Division (SOD) that uses NSA and CIA intelligence to spy on Americans suspected of drug crimes should be in taken in context of the DEA’s use of federal civil forfeiture to profit from drug prohibition. Reuters reports:

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses. (John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke, U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans, Reuters, 5 Aug. 2013)

AFR Research Director Scott Meiner notes that:

“While the techniques described are universally bad, they carry special concern in forfeiture cases–where intelligence tips of a driver carrying cash (for legitimate or illegitimate reasons) compels officers to create parallel constructions to obfuscate from the courts and the public the real reasons why drivers are pulled over: so the department can score forfeiture proceeds.”, said AFR Research Director Scott Meiner.  “Informed police departments can use SOD tips to pull over cars that they know have cash (whether it is legitimate or illegitimate) and then apply a K9 sniff (with seeming random innocuity) and find the cash that they knew existed. A positive sniff (which is an inevitably positive sniff given what we know of cuing errors) validates the purported connection to drugs and thus justifies the forfeiture to the courts.”

This is particularly problematic in civil asset forfeiture, as federal law allows the seizure and forfeiture of property in a civil, not criminal process, and there is no federal requirement that criminal charges be filed when the government is interested in a civil forfeiture.

More broadly, the use of SOD to spy on Americans by the DEA calls into question not just the use of asset forfeiture in highway stops, but also in other aggressive forfeiture-related tactics such as the use of confidential informants and forfeiture “specialists” who hunt for property to seize. Two recent cases are instructive in this regard:

  • The 2008 “reactivation” of DEA informant Anthony Chambers, who was caught lying under oath in court at least 16 times and was fired by the agency in 2000. Chambers is known as the “highest-paid snitch” in DEA history and is responsible for over 445 drug arrests, as well as millions of dollars seized by the DEA and other agencies.
  • The attempted forfeiture of Russ Caswell’s motel property in Tewksbury, MA. The DEA attempted to seize the Motel Caswell after Vincent T. Kelly, a DEA forfeiture specialist, claimed he had found reports of drug crimes happening at the Motel Caswell in newspapers going back over a decade. It seems more than a little odd that DEA forfeiture specialists read decades-old newspaper articles looking for property to seize; is it possible that this justification for the Motel Caswell forfeiture is a “parallel construction”?

Indeed, asset forfeiture is now a major revenue stream for federal law enforcement. Sarah Stillman reports in the New Yorker:

Forfeiture in its modern form began with federal statutes enacted in the nineteen-seventies and aimed not at waitresses and janitors but at organized-crime bosses and drug lords. Law-enforcement officers were empowered to seize money and goods tied to the production of illegal drugs. Later amendments allowed the seizure of anything thought to have been purchased with tainted funds, whether or not it was connected to the commission of a crime. Even then, forfeiture remained an infrequent resort until 1984, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. It established a special fund that turned over proceeds from forfeitures to the law-enforcement agencies responsible for them. Local police who provided federal assistance were rewarded with a large percentage of the proceeds, through a program called Equitable Sharing. Soon states were crafting their own forfeiture laws.

Revenue gains were staggering. At the Justice Department, proceeds from forfeiture soared from twenty-seven million dollars in 1985 to five hundred and fifty-six million in 1993. (Last year, the department took in nearly $4.2 billion in forfeitures, a record.) The strategy helped reconcile President Reagan’s call for government action in fighting crime with his call to reduce public spending. In 1989, Attorney General Richard Thornburgh boasted, “It’s now possible for a drug dealer to serve time in a forfeiture-financed prison after being arrested by agents driving a forfeiture-provided automobile while working in a forfeiture-funded sting operation.” (Sarah Stillman, “Taken“, The New Yorker, 12 Aug. 2013)

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, called for Congress to act, saying “It’s remarkable how little scrutiny the DEA faces from Congress or other federal overseers. With an annual budget of over $2 billion as well as significant discretionary powers, DEA certainly merits a top-to-bottom review of its operations, expenditures and discretionary actions.” We might add that it’s time for Congress to specifically review the DEA’s discretionary asset forfeiture authority and access to unappropriated forfeiture revenues. Prior to 1984, the US was able to fund its federal and state law enforcement through direct legislative appropriations. It’s time for Congress to reassert its power of the purse and end the ability of federal law enforcement to chase profits without accountability.


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Government Panel Approves Government Spying

On July 1, the Associated Press breathlessly reported that an “independent civil liberties board” gave NSA spying the constitutional seal of approval and declared the spy agency employs “reasonable” safeguards designed to protect the rights of Americans.

Funny what the AP considers “independent.”

President Barack Obama appointed the members of this civil liberties board. It was made up of a Democratic federal judge, two “privacy experts” and two former Republican Justice Department officials.

So, the real headline should read, “Government Board Appointed by Government Approves Government Spying.”

Shocking, I know.

According to the AP story, the board “found that the NSA monitoring was legal and reasonable and that the NSA and other agencies take steps to prevent misuse of Americans’ data. Those steps include ‘minimization,’ that redacts the names of Americans from intelligence reports unless they are relevant.”

‘Overall, the board finds that the protections contained in the Section 702 minimization procedures are reasonably designed and implemented to ward against the exploitation of information acquired under the program for illegitimate purposes,’ said the report, which is to be voted on at a public meeting Wednesday in Washington. ‘The board has seen no trace of any such illegitimate activity associated with the program, or any attempt to intentionally circumvent legal limits.’

Perhaps the board members should pick up a copy of the Washington Post.

Just a few days after the government panel released its findings, the Post published an in-depth article revealing that the NSA spies mostly on regular people. And the report shows that the government not only downplays the extent of its spying, it out-and-out lies about it.

Shocking, I know.

The Washington Post reported that as many as nine out of 10 Internet users caught up in the spy dragnet were not the intended targets of surveillance and about half were Americans. The Post report did reveal nearly 65,000 “minimized” records belonging to Americans, but found some 900 that were not. It also revealed a very loose standard for determining if a target was American or not, indicating that the agency likely spies on many Americans it has declared foreigners.

The Obama board did acknowledge the spy programs “potentially allow a great deal of private information about U.S. persons to be acquired by the government.”

According to the Snowden documents, there’s no “potentially” to it. It does.

President Obama’s panel was nothing more than another government dog and pony show, a classic fox guarding the hen house scenario. Nobody should put stock in the findings of a board made up of members of the political class. It was pretty much forgone conclusion that the government board would give its seal of approval to unconstitutional, illegal and immoral NSA spying.

It did.

Shocking, I know.

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Greenwald Releases Names of NSA Spy Targets

Journalist Glenn Greenwald released the names of five Americans targeted by NSA spies on Wednesday.

Greenwald obtained the information through documents given to him by Edward Snowden, specifically a spreadsheet called the FISA recap. The five people Greenwald revealed as spy targets all had one thing in common – their Muslim faith. They include civil rights activists, attorneys, a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates and academics.

Here are the five names Greenwald released:

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

The spreadsheet contained 7,485 email addresses that were apparently monitored between 2002-2008. According to Greenwald, it appears many were foreigners with suspected links to Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah. There were also many Americans, including known terrorists Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both killed in a 2011 drone strike. The nationality of many were listed as “unknown.”

Greenwald interviewed all five of the men he revealed. All felt their religion placed them in NSA cross-hairs. Although a few had some distant links to organizations linked to terrorism and foreign countries that might raise suspicion, the information Greenwald provided shows no justification for long-term snooping into their emails.

The five Americans whose email accounts were placed on the list come from different backgrounds, and hold different religious and political views. None was designated on the list as connected to a foreign power. Some have come under sharp public scrutiny for their activities on behalf of Muslim-Americans, and several have been investigated by the government. But despite being subjected to what appears to be long periods of government surveillance, none has been charged with a crime, let alone convincingly linked to terrorism or espionage on behalf of a foreign power. Taken together, their personal stories raise disturbing questions about who the government chooses to monitor, and why.

ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer likened the targeting of Muslim Americans by the government to FBI surveillance of dissedents in the 1960s.

Some of the government’s surveillance practices today are reminiscent of those earlier abusive practices. Today’s American-Muslim activists occupy the same position that civil-rights and anti-war activists occupied during the 1960s.

This latest revelation hints at the potential abuses inherent in secret spy programs run under the cloak of darkness. Documents released by Snowden indicate a far more insidious program than many imagined, and they reveal systematic lying by government officials. When one stops to considers what we now know about the NSA spy program, it boggles the mind to contemplate what remains hidden.

The government downplays each new revelation, but how can we believe their official statements when documentation has exposed a web of lies? The only solution lies in ripping away the veil of secrecy, and demanding the NSA and other federal agencies remain true to the limits on their power spelled out specifically in the Constitution. We cannot depend on Congress, the president or federal courts to rein in the spy programs. The federal government will never limit itself. We must take action at the state and local level to force the issue and bring about change from the bottom up.