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Mike Thompson helps introduce FISA oversight act

Rep. Mike Thompson helped introduce a bipartisan bill today that he and his co-authors say would strengthen congressional oversight and improve accountability from the nation’s intelligence community, which has been accused of overstepping its bounds in surveillance of U.S. citizens.

The Intelligence Oversight and Accountability Act of 2013, H.R. 3103, requires that any Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decision, order or opinion that includes a denial or modification of an intelligence community request, or that results in a change to any legal interpretation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, be shared with Congress.

Mike Thompson“Our government has a responsibility to both protect American lives and our citizens’ civil liberties,” Thompson, D-Napa, said in a news release. “This bill helps us meet that responsibility by strengthening Congress’ aggressive oversight of our Intelligence Community. Through the oversight and accountability provided by this bill, we can help make sure our Intelligence Community operates within legal and constitutional boundaries while they continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”

The bill’s other co-authors are Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J.; Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; and J. Randy Forbes, R-Va.

Under current law, when the FISC or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review issues a decision, order, or opinion, the attorney general must determine if the issue considered by the FISC includes a “significant construction or interpretation of the law.” If the attorney general determines that the decision is significant, that information must be shared with Congress. But if the attorney general determines that the decision is not “significant,” the information doesn’t have to be shared with Congress.

The bill also requires the Justice Department to include enhanced summaries of the FISC’s decisions, orders, and opinions to make the facts, issues, and legal reasoning involved in these matters more accessible to Congress.

H.R. 3103 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, on which Gutierrez and Forbes are senior members, and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which Thompson, LoBiondo and Gutierrez are senior members.

Posted on Monday, September 16th, 2013
Under: Civil liberties, Mike Thompson, national security, U.S. House, War on Terror | No Comments »

House members weigh in on NSA abuses report

Capitol Hill and the American public are going bananas today over a Washington Post report that National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008.

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“Press reports that the National Security Agency broke privacy rules thousands of times per year and reportedly sought to shield required disclosure of privacy violations are extremely disturbing.

“Current laws governing NSA’s collection activities contain safeguards to ensure the protection of privacy and civil liberties including provisions that require that incidents of non-compliance be reported to Congress and the FISA Court. Congress must conduct rigorous oversight to ensure that all incidents of non-compliance are reported to the oversight committees and the FISA court in a timely and comprehensive manner, and that appropriate steps are taken to ensure violations are not repeated.”

From Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa:

Mike Thompson“Reports that the NSA repeatedly overstepped its legal boundaries, broke privacy regulations, and attempted to shield required disclosure of violations are outrageous, inappropriate and must be addressed. These reports, if accurate, highlight the need for aggressive oversight of the NSA’s intelligence gathering activities. This is exactly why I worked to establish an independent Inspector General for the intelligence community that will detect and deter abuse and misconduct within intelligence programs. Now we must act to make sure the abuses are not repeated.

“Congress and the Intelligence Committees can and should do more to ensure the NSA’s operations respect Americans’ civil liberties, that all incidents of non-compliance, if substantiated, are reported in a timely and comprehensive manner, and that appropriate steps are taken to make sure the incidents are not repeated.

“I do not believe protecting our citizens’ lives and civil liberties are mutually exclusive pursuits. Through aggressive oversight we can ensure our intelligence community can continue working to keep our country safe while respecting our citizens’ constitutional rights.”

Less than a month ago, Pelosi and Thompson both voted against an amendment put forth by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., which would’ve banned the NSA’s bulk, indiscriminate collection of phone records; the amendment failed on a 205-217 vote.

Among those who voted for the Amash amendment was Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who today said:

Jackie Speier“It’s clear that oversight of the NSA and the broader intelligence community is failing. I fear the NSA has abused its power and lost the trust of many Americans. Congress needs to re-examine its relationship to the intelligence community if we are going to restore confidence that privacy rights are protected in this country.

“First, the internal audit released today needs to be held as a model practice for transparency. Audits such as this one should be done more frequently and comprehensively. The findings of these audits must be delivered to Congress. Second, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must be privy to the NSA’s actions and no longer reliant on the NSA’s self-reporting. Third, there need to be stronger protections for whistleblowers. Intelligence community employees and contractors must feel safe to report wrongdoing and be protected from retribution.

“Congress cannot allow such sweeping violations of privacy to continue.”

Posted on Friday, August 16th, 2013
Under: Civil liberties, Jackie Speier, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, national security, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

ICYMI: President Obama’s press conference

We’ve posted an article about President Obama’s press conference today, in which he unveiled proposals to address the federal government’s ability to spy on Americans, but if you’d like to hear it straight from the source:

Read the White House’s transcript, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, August 9th, 2013
Under: Civil liberties, national security, Obama presidency | 5 Comments »

Surveillance: Drones, drugs & ‘Domain Awareness’

On the domestic surveillance news front today: The Assembly Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow, Tuesday, Aug. 6, on domestic use of drones.

Among those scheduled to testify are Professor YangQuan Chen of the UC Merced School of Engineering; Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean; CalFire Deputy Director Andy McMurry; TerrAvion founder and CEO Robert Morris; Professor Elizabeth Joh of the UC Davis School of Law; Linda Lye, attorney with the ACLU of Northern California; and Jennifer Lynch, attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to noon, and the public can listen online.

“The Public Safety Committee has been called upon this session to evaluate some bills involving the use of drones,” committee chairman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said in a news release. “However, it’s such a new subject; we need to develop a base of knowledge and a context for making decisions on these important bills.”

Also, Reuters reports today that a secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit – operating in tandem with the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security – 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.

And, I was on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California” on Friday night to discuss Oakland’s controversial decision to expand its public video surveillance:

It was a lively discussion, but I wish I’d had a chance to delve into other topics such as how Oakland and other cities share the intelligence they gather with a regional “fusion center” located in a federal building in San Francisco; varying policies on how long such video footage is retained; and how easy it is for cities with extensive video surveillance networks to later add in software such as facial-recognition programs. I touched on some of these topics in a story I co-authored in June.

Posted on Monday, August 5th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Civil liberties, national security, Oakland, Public safety, Tom Ammiano | No Comments »

Daniel Ellsberg speaks on Bradley Manning verdict

“All one can say is, ‘It could’ve been worse’ – a lot worse, not just for Bradley but for American democracy and the free press on which it depends,” said Daniel Ellsberg, who was a military analyst in 1971 when he leaked the Pentagon Papers: secret documents about U.S. decision-making in Vietnam.

Daniel EllsbergEllsberg, now 82 and of Kensington, said he initially had seen the “aiding the enemy” charge of which Bradley Manning was acquitted Tuesday as so unsupported and over-the-top that he wondered whether prosecutors had filed it just to distract the public from other, lesser-but-still-severe charges.

Manning’s prosecution is all about “shutting off any sources to investigative journalists from the Pentagon, NSA, CIA, the State Department – any information to the public about how they’re being served by the government, other than what the government wants them to know,” Ellsberg said, and that is “a kind of tyranny.”

Jeff Paterson, director of Oakland-based Courage to Resist and a steering committee member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, said Tuesday he sees the verdict as “a limited victory.” He said the judge, despite having “openly sided with the military prosecution,” still didn’t buy prosecutors’ arguments that Manning aided America’s enemies; such a conviction would have set “a chilling precedent against any future whistleblower,” he said.

Paterson – whose group was organizing a protest at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Market and Powell streets in San Francisco – said he’s disappointed by the Espionage Act convictions, but is confident the sentencing hearing will let Manning’s lawyers explain “why he felt compelled to give up his freedom in order to share this information with the American public for the good of democracy.”

Click here for a sampling of social media reactions to the Manning verdict.

Posted on Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
Under: national security | 3 Comments »

John Yoo weighs in on NSA/PRISM leak

Berkeley’s John Yoo, the Cal law professor who previously was the George W. Bush administration’s architect of legal policies supporting the war on terror and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” wrote a piece in the National Review urging the prosecution of NSA/PRISM leaker Edward Snowden – and perhaps some other folks, too:

John YooRecall that the Obama Justice Department claimed that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a co-conspirator in the alleged leak of classified intelligence. If the Justice Department truly believed what it told the courts when seeking a wiretap on Rosen, then it should indict the reporters and editors for the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers who published information on PRISM.

Except, of course, that Rosen wasn’t indicted. I guess we should just be glad Yoo isn’t offering a legal justification for waterboarding reporters.

Actually, Yoo goes on to say he believes “the Post is protected by the First Amendment, but Holder’s Justice Department clearly doesn’t think so.” Wonkette offers a (rather profane) smackdown of what it says is Yoo’s hypocrisy on such things. What do you think?

Posted on Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
Under: Civil liberties, national security | 32 Comments »

Patron saint of whistleblowers to talk in Berkeley

Perhaps the most famed whistleblower in U.S. history will take part in a panel discussion tonight in Berkeley about new revelations of government surveillance.

Daniel EllsbergDaniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the “Pentagon Papers” exposing U.S. policy on the Vietnam war, will participate in the panel at 7:30 p.m. tonight in St. John’s Church, 2727 College Ave. in Berkeley. The event is free and open to the public.

Other panelists include Nadia Kayyali, is a legal fellow and organizer with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee; Norman Solomon, an activist and media critic who ran in the 2nd Congressional District last year; and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of Iceland’s parliament and director of the International Modern Media Institute.

The panelists posit that Americans’ civil liberties are vanishing at an alarming rate, jeopardizing democracy and the rule of law. They’ll discuss dragnet warrantless spying and domestic surveillance, indefinite detention without trial, and secrecy and the war on whistleblowers.

“In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago,” Ellsberg wrote for the Guardian yesterday. “Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an ‘executive coup’ against the U.S. constitution.”

Posted on Tuesday, June 11th, 2013
Under: Civil liberties, national security | 12 Comments »

Tauscher to chair new Governor’s Military Council

Gov. Jerry Brown probably believes it’s fine for the nation to speak softly, but he’s enlisting a former East Bay Congresswoman to ensure California remains part of its big stick.

Ellen TauscherBrown today appointed former East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher to chair a new Governor’s Military Council, tasked with protecting California’s military installations against the deep budget cuts being made by the Pentagon under the sequestration approved by Congress and President Obama.

“California plays a crucial role in our nation’s defense, and military bases and activities are vital to our state’s economy,” Brown said in a news release. “As federal priorities shift to cyber security and new military technology, this Council will work to expand defense-industry jobs and investment in California.”

California is home to 29 federal military installations, and the Defense Department directly employs more than 236,000 people in California. This new council will work to protect those installations and operations amid ongoing Defense Department budget cuts, and to push for changes in federal military strategy that will keep California at the front of defense innovation.

“California’s military infrastructure is critically important to national security,” Tauscher said. “The Council will send a unified message to Washington, D.C., that highlights the value of our military bases.”

Tauscher, 61, represented her East Bay congressional district from 1997 until 2009, when she resigned to take a post as U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs; she left that post in February 2012. More recently, she served as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense and Vice Chair-Designate of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. She is now a strategic advisor to the Baker Donelson law firm in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted defense is key sector of the state’s economy.

“With federal budgets continuing to be cut — including many defense programs — it is my hope that the Governor’s Military Council will help protect jobs and investments and attract new missions associated with California’s military presence,” she said. “I also believe that Ellen Tauscher is an excellent choice to chair this council, as she brings a wealth of experience at the State Department and as a member of the House of Representatives.”

The council will convene for one year and draft specific recommendations to the governor and Legislature. It includes retired admirals and generals from all military branches, the Adjutant General of the California National Guard and lawmakers selected by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez. The appointments don’t require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation.

See the full roster of council members as described by the governor’s office, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, March 28th, 2013
Under: economy, Ellen Tauscher, Jerry Brown, national security | 5 Comments »

Tauscher stepping down from federal post

Ellen TauscherFormer East Bay congresswoman Ellen Tauscher is stepping down as under secretary for arms control and international security at the U.S. State Department, according to The Cable, a Washington D.C.-based foreign policy news site.

Tauscher will remain at the State Department part-time as a special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense while pursuing her work as a cancer patient advocate. She successfully fought esophageal cancer last year and began sharing her inspirational story.

The former Alamo resident represented the 10th Congressional District for seven terms. She resigned in mid-2009 and took the high-level federal post, where she reported to friend and ally, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Here’s what The Cable reporter Josh Rogin posted a few minutes ago:

Following her successful battle with esophageal cancer, Ellen Tauscher is taking a step back and handing over several of her responsibilities as the State Department’s top arms control official, State Department officials told The Cable today.

 In early February, Tauscher will formally resign as undersecretary of State for arms control and international security and be appointed to a newly created position called the “special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense.” She will be working part-time, using her new flexibility to work on cancer patient advocacy and pursuing projects outside of government. Officials told The Cable that after 13 years in Congress and 3 years in the administration, she decided that the time had come for her to take a breather and focus on other interests.

 “Ellen has been campaigning, legislating, and working at a breakneck pace for nearly 16 years and, now with a new lease on life, she wants to focus on some new opportunities while still working on critically important national security issues,” a State Department official told The Cable today.

Click here for the full story.

Posted on Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
Under: national security | 4 Comments »

Tauscher declares victory over cancer

U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher (Photo by Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher

I had breakfast with U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher earlier this week and the former East Bay congresswoman shared the compelling and inspiring story of her remarkable triumph over esophageal cancer.

Read the full story here.

I didn’t have space in the piece but I shared with Ellen that morning about how her experience had already helped me in a very personal way.

Last March, the Washington Post wrote a lovely story about her recovery and as I read through the text, I keyed in on Ellen’s description of the early symptoms: Trouble swallowing bulky foods, a sensation of something blocking her esophagus.

My husband had been experiencing the very same symptoms for months. He had recently suffered a painful episode while eating a salad at a restaurant.

I showed him the news story and he made an appointment.

The initial examination revealed a potential problem and his doctor scheduled an endoscopy. Fortunately, the scope found a highly treatable inflammation and not cancer.

But for all we knew at the time, the symptoms could have been associated with a far more serious health problem. And early detection is a good thing when it comes to the successful treatment of cancer.

So, take Ellen’s advice: Even if you think all you need is another roll of Tums, go see your doctor.  Do it for the people who love you.

Posted on Friday, July 29th, 2011
Under: Congress, Congressional District 10, Ellen Tauscher, national security | 2 Comments »