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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.”

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Prize-winning journalist drops bombshell

(This is a guest post from Matt O’Brien, who covers immigration issues for Bay Area News Group – East Bay.)

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who grew up in the Bay Area dropped a media bombshell this morning that took off with a brief post on his Twitter account.

“I am an undocumented immigrant,” announced Jose Antonio Vargas, a graduate of SF State and Mountain View High School who won the Pulitzer for his coverage of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre for the Washington Post. Read about his saga, he added, in a gripping 4,600-word essay posted online this morning and to be printed in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

Vargas told of how his mother sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in Mountain View when he was a 12-year-old in 1993. It wasn’t until years later that he found out he was living in the United States illegally:

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. “This is fake,” she whispered. “Don’t come back here again.”

Vargas also went public with his story in an emotional TV interview that will broadcast on ABC News tomorrow:

Another video on his newly launched “Define American” website (www.defineamerican.com) shows that this disclosure is designed to make a powerful statement in the country’s ongoing debate over illegal immigration:

Vargas isn’t the only journalist, or Pulitzer winner, for that matter, to have lived in the U.S. as an unauthorized immigrant. Orange Coast magazine reported earlier this year on the story of LA Times reporter Ruben Vives, part of the team that uncovered the Bell city government scandal and the son of a Guatemalan nanny who brought him across the border when he was a child.

But the Vargas story has caused more of a stir because the journalist is still at risk of deportation and has been in this situation throughout his career, which included early internships at The Mountain View Voice (which was unpaid) and the San Francisco Chronicle. The Seattle Times denied Vargas an internship because of his lack of proper documents, and he kept his status a secret from top managers at the Washington Post.

It was the Post that planned to publish the Vargas account first, but as Chris Suellentrop, an editor at the New York Times Magazine, explained in a blog post this afternoon, the DC paper killed the story days before it was due to run.

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Tauscher cancer free, says Post

Tauscher

Tauscher

Former East Bay congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, now under secretary for international security and arms control in the U.S. State Department, is cancer free, according to the Washington Post’s “What Happened To …” segment.

That’s excellent news.

Not long after her 2009 marriage to retired pilot Jim Cieslak, Tauscher  underwent chemotherapy and radiation, and then surgery to remove her esophagus.

These two make a wonderful couple and they deserve many more years together.  My best wishes for a continued clean bill of health!

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Tauscher helps broker Russia-U.S. arms deal

Tauscher

Tauscher

Former East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, now serving as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the Obama Adminstration, played a key role in the negotiation of a nuclear arms pact that would reduce U.S. and Russian arsenals by one-third, according to the Washington Post.

The Senate confirmed Tauscher to the post in June, and former California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi was elected as her replacement in the 10th District in a special election in September.

Read full Washington Pot article here.

The Post wrote, in part:

“Work must still be finished on the technical annexes to the treaty that lay out details of inspection and verification regimes, Ellen Tauscher, the U.S. under secretary of state for arms control, told reporters at the State Department.

She said officials hoped to finish those annexes by the end of April and then submit the full package to the Senate, where a vote of two-thirds is required for ratification.

“Our goal is to submit the treaty in the late spring and to seek ratification by the end of the year,” Tauscher said.

Tauscher insisted the new treaty placed no limits on U.S. missile defense systems, despite Russian suggestions last week that either side had the right to pull out of the offensive nuclear arms agreement if the other beefs up missile defenses.”

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CD10: National press weighs in on race

The national press is writing about today’s 10th Congressional District special election. Most conclude that Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi will beat Republican David Harmer, although it may not be the partisan stomping that Democrats have enjoyed in past elections in this district.

Here are the links:

Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125720634100324047.html?mod=article-outset-box

Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/11/03/republicans-face-long-odds-northern-california-house-race/

FiveThirtyEight.com: http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/11/2009-elections-preview-ca-10.html

Washington Monthly: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2009_11/020778.php

New York Times: http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/races-to-watch-across-the-nation/

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11

/03/AR2009110300111.html

HotAir.com: http://hotair.com/archives/2009/11/03/big-sweep-today/

MSNBC: http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/11/03/2117404.aspx

The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/491381/tale_of_two_special_elections_one_shifts_right_the_other_left

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Tauscher sworn in … again

The Washington Post’s foreign policy website reports today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially swore in former East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher Monday as her Undersecretary for International Security and Arms Control.

Wait? Didn’t a federal judge already do that in June? I thought so, too. But who am I to argue with the Washington Post or the State Department’s mysterious ways.

Here is the first part of The Cable site’s entry. Click here for the full report.

Just back from an 11-day trip to Africa and before meetings with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the White House and then heading off for vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swore in her close ally, former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, as undersecretary of State for arms control and international security Monday in the State Department’s eighth floor Ben Franklin room. In attendance were National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones and his wife, long-time friends of Tauscher and her new groom Jim Cieslak (like Jones a former Marine), along with Clinton’s special advisor on arms control and international security Robert Einhorn, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance and Implementation Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns, and Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro.