Posts tagged unrest
Officials with the US Department of Defense have confirmed that the Pentagon has finalized procedures that outline how American forces could soon combat the government of war-torn Syria and officially involve itself in that state’s bloody uprising.
After months of rumors suggesting that the US has unofficially made efforts to weaponize rebel forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, officials with the Defense Department tell CNN that the Pentagon has finished drafting blueprints that lay-out just how the US military could aid in ousting the leader with America’s own troops.
In their report, CNN cites Defense Department officials speaking on condition of anonymity; in a separate sit-down however, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey confirms to the outlet that intensifying violence overseas in recent months has prompted the Pentagon to expedite establishing a role for US forces.
The violence “gives us all pause that have been in Iraq and seen how these issues become sectarian and then they become civil wars and then they become very difficult to resolve,” Dempsey tells CNN this week.
“There is a sense that if the sectarian violence in Syria grows, it could be worse than what we saw in Iraq,” he adds.
by: J. D. Heyes
How out-of-hand has the “war on terror” become? So much so that now, the Department of Homeland Security has taken to monitoring social media Web sites trolling for would-be terrorists, as if the world’s most dangerous killers were Tweeting their plans.
Only, DHS isn’t just trolling for terrorists by monitoring Twitter and Facebook. No, the department – which at least one presidential contender, Rep. Ron Paul, believes is out of control – is wasting valuable and limited assets evaluating media reports, organizations and news sites like The Drudge Report for anti-government attitudes and social unrest.
But wait, you ask. What does monitoring American-based Web sites and social media applications have to do with the war on terror? Probably nothing, but you may remember that the Department of Homeland Security was born out of legislation passed immediately after the 9/11 attacks to protect “the American people from terrorist threats.”
First Amendment, anyone?
You’re not the only one who isn’t buying the spying. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a watchdog organization looking to protect civil liberties, privacy, the First Amendment and constitutional values in an increasingly interconnected world, has convinced a House subcommittee that the DHS activity is suspicious enough to warrant closer examination. The hearings come on the heels of the group’s acquisition of some 300 pages of DHS documents resulting from a Freedom of Information Act request which lay bare the agency’s “intelligence gathering” activities online.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of political dissent has no legal basis and is contrary to core First Amendment principles,” says EPIC’s director, Ginger McCall, who says a government agency that monitors what ordinary Americans are saying about federal policies goes too far, and has direct implications on freedom of speech.
“The language in the documents makes it quite clear that they are looking for media reports that are critical of the agency and the U.S. government more broadly,” she said. “This is entirely outside of the bounds of the agency’s statutory duties.”
EPIC says documents it has obtained show that DHS has used contractors to monitor Twitter, Facebook, Hulu, Wikileaks, Drudge and other news sites including the Huffington Post. The documents reveal that the contractors were required to provide DHS with reaction regarding potential “threats and hazards,” as well as any media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government and the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) ability to prevent, protect and respond, to recovery efforts or activities related to any crisis or events which impact National Planning Scenarios.”
The program should also highlight “both positive and negative reports on FEMA, C.I.A., C.B.P., ICE, etc., as well as organizations outside of D.H.S.,” the documents said.
Looking over your shoulder
Now, DHS officials admit that, yes, the agency was monitoring the Web for any negative opinion of the government. But they said the operation was only undertaken as a one-and-done test, then quickly dropped, because it didn’t meet “operational requirements or privacy standards” which “expressly prohibit reporting on individuals’ First Amendment activities.”
Homeland Security is monitoring the web for anti-government sentiment and signs of social unrest
A privacy advocacy group has swayed Congress to hold a hearing next week into the Department of Homeland Security’s practice of monitoring social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as media reports and organizations, including The Drudge Report.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) recently obtained close to 300 pages of documents, as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, detailing the federal agency’s “intelligence gathering” practices on the web.
Among the documents were guidelines from DHS instructing outside contractors to monitor the web for media reports and comments that “reflect adversely” on the agency or the federal government.
As Reuters reported last month, in early 2010 contractors were asked to spend 24 hours monitoring news media coverage on popular websites, including Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, WikiLeaks, as well as news sites including the Huffington Post and The Drudge Report.
The contractors were required to provide the DHS with feedback on any potential “threats and hazards”, as well as “any media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government and the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) ability to prevent, protect and respond, to recovery efforts or activities related to any crisis or events which impact National Planning Scenarios.”
The documents also state that the program should highlight “both positive and negative reports on FEMA, C.I.A., C.B.P., ICE, etc., as well as organizations outside of D.H.S.”
The documents obtained by EPIC indicate that following the exercise, a procurement official awarded an $11.3 million contract to General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems in order to carry out the monitoring on a “24/7/365 basis”.
EPIC director Ginger McCall notes that monitoring what people are saying about government policies goes too far and has a chilling effect on free speech.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of political dissent has no legal basis and is contrary to core First Amendment principles,” she said.
“The language in the documents makes it quite clear that they are looking for media reports that are critical of the agency and the U.S. government more broadly,” said McCall. “This is entirely outside of the bounds of the agency’s statutory duties.”
DHS officials have admitted that monitoring of social networks for negative opinion was undertaken by the agency, but claim that the operation was a one off test and was quickly dropped as it did not meet “operational requirements or privacy standards,” which “expressly prohibit reporting on individuals’ First Amendment activities.”
EPIC argues otherwise and has presented evidence that suggests the practice is being held up by the DHS an an example that should be emulated.
“They are completely out of bounds here,” McCall said. “The idea that the government is constantly peering over your shoulder and listening to what you are saying creates a very chilling effect to legitimate dissent.
The Congressional hearing, DHS Monitoring of Social Networking and Media: Enhancing Intelligence Gathering and Ensuring Privacy, will be held Thursday February 16th.
However, it is already apparent where the House subcommittee for intelligence and counter-terrorism stands on the matter. As reported by Reuters, the top two members of the subcommittee, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), wrote to DHS Intelligence Chief Caryn Wagner last month, pressing her to more carefully monitor users’ posts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, in order to help detect “current or emerging threats.”
As we have also previously reported, The DHS has openly announced that it is actively monitoring social media for signs of “social unrest”, in a bid to pre-empt any sign of social dislocation within the United States.
There’s some disturbing rhetoric flying around in the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, which among other things contains passages that a) officially codify the already-accepted practice of indefinite detention of “terrorist” suspects, and b) transfer the responsibility for such detentions exclusively to the military.
The fact that there’s been only some muted public uproar about this provision (which, disturbingly enough, is the creature of Wall Street anti-corruption good guy Carl Levin, along with John McCain) is mildly surprising, given what’s been going on with the Occupy movement. Protesters in fact should be keenly interested in the potential applications of this provision, which essentially gives the executive branch unlimited powers to indefinitely detain terror suspects without trial.
The really galling thing is that this act specifically envisions American citizens falling under the authority of the bill. One of its supporters, the dependably-unlikeable Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, bragged that the law “basically says … for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and that people can be jailed without trial, be they “American citizen or not.” New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte reiterated that “America is part of the battlefield.”
Officially speaking, of course, the bill only pertains to:
“… a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”
As Glenn Greenwald notes, the key passages here are “substantially supported” and “associated forces.” The Obama administration and various courts have already expanded their definition of terrorism to include groups with no connection to 9/11 (i.e. certain belligerents in Yemen and Somalia) and to individuals who are not members of the target terror groups, but merely provided “substantial support.”
The definitions, then, are, for the authorities, conveniently fungible. They may use indefinite detention against anyone who “substantially supports” terror against the United States, and it looks an awful lot like they have leeway in defining not only what constitutes “substantial” and “support,” but even what “terror” is. Is a terrorist under this law necessarily a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban? Or is it merely someone who is “engaged in hostilities against the United States”?
Here’s where I think we’re in very dangerous territory. We have two very different but similarly large protest movements going on right now in the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. What if one of them is linked to a violent act? What if a bomb goes off in a police station in Oakland, or an IRS office in Texas? What if the FBI then linked those acts to Occupy or the Tea Party?
You can see where this is going. When protesters on the left first started flipping out about George Bush’s indefinite detention and rendition policies, most people thought the idea that these practices might someday be used against ordinary Americans was merely an academic concern, something theoretical.
But it’s real now. If these laws are passed, we would be forced to rely upon the discretion of a demonstrably corrupt and consistently idiotic government to not use these awful powers to strike back at legitimate domestic unrest.
Right now, the Senate is openly taking aim at the rights of American citizens under the guise of an argument that anyone who supports al-Qaeda has no rights. But if you pay close attention, you’ll notice the law’s supporters here and there conveniently leaving out those caveats about “anyone who supports al-Qaeda.” For instance, here’s Lindsey Graham again:
“If you’re an American citizen and you betray your country, you’re not going to be given a lawyer … I believe our military should be deeply involved in fighting these guys at home or abroad.”
As Greenwald points out, this idea – that an American who commits treason can be detained without due process – is in direct defiance of Article III, Section III of the Constitution, which reads:
“No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”
This effort to eat away at the rights of the accused was originally gradual, but to me it looks like that process is accelerating. It began in the Bush years with a nebulous description of terrorist sedition that may or may not have included links to Sunni extremist groups in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.