Monthly Archives: September 2007

Big Profits in Weapons Sales

In recent testimony before Congress, General David Petraeus testified that the United States is planning to sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to Iraq, which has become one of the United States’ larger foreign military sales (FMS) customers.

Iraq has reportedly committed 1.6 billion dollars to FMS already, and may possibly commit 1.8 billion dollars more before the end of this year.

That’s good news and big profits for arms manufacturers in the United States and Britain, but as noted by Mark Benjamin from Salon, “good business doesn’t necessarily equal good foreign policy.”

A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (PDF) found that the United States, under General Petraeus’s watch, has not been able to keep track of 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 80,000 Glock pistols, 135,000 pieces of body armor and 115,000 Kevlar helmets issued to Iraqi security forces. Some of the U.S. weapons sold to the Iraqi government were found in Turkey where they were linked to violent crimes.

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Misadventures in Governmental Misinformation

Just before the Summer recess this past August, Congress was coerced to pass a bill that would expire in six months, giving the Bush Administration unlimited power to order domestic communications companies — your Internet Service Provider (ISP), Telephone company, Skype or any other email provider — based in the U.S. to use electronic surveillance against you without a warrant.

That wasn’t good enough for the Bush Administration. Now the Administration reportedly wants to make that power permanent and is willing to purposely use misleading information and lies to achieve those goals. Illegal, warrantless wiretapping was secretly and illegally authorized by President Bush after the 9/11 attacks.

The Bush Administration and their supporters want to be able to secretly monitor all electronic information at any given moment with no external oversight, only a promise to only use it against the nation’s enemies and to be absolved of any wrongdoing.

Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) testified to Congress and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, citing a situation in Iraq where the intelligence community figured that insurgents who kidnapped American soldiers used a communication technology that was “going over the wire” into the U.S.

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Misadventures in TSA Airport Screening

If you’re traveling internationally and don’t want to be labeled as a terrorist or drug runner by the secretive (albeit partially dysfunctional and inefficient) Department of Homeland Security (DHS) algorithms, you want to be careful what books and other reading material you bring to read on the plane. Records recently revealed to reportedly show that the government has been selectively storing that type of information for years.

The records (the most current of which are from 2004) show that the government routinely records the race of people they pull aside for extra screening when they enter the country as well as the cursory answers given to U.S. border inspectors regarding their purpose for traveling.

One record noted Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) co-founder John Gilmore’s choice of reading material and worry about the number of small flashlights he had packed for his trip. The records contain a lot of sensitive information and it appears that the DHS hasn’t exactly been forthright with U.S. citizens (the DHS has been caught lying more than once).

The Automated Targeting System (ATS) scrutinizes every passenger entering or leaving the country, telling agents who to give extra screening to. Records include airline-record collections and screening records mined for the controversial DHS passenger rating system.

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Senator Sues God Over War On Terror

I’ve wondered a few times in the past why Congress and the Senate haven’t done anything about all the illegal activities, lies and deceptions performed by our “elected” leaders…as you’ll see below, the answer keeps becoming more and more obvious. (Updated 9/20/07)

For instance, now we know that part of the reason involves Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers reportedly filing suit against God, asking a court to order God and his followers to stop making terrorist threats…honestly, you couldn’t make this up.

The lawsuit (Chambers v. God, PDF) was filed in a Nebraska district court. It contends that God and his followers of all persuasions, “has made and continues to make terroristic threats of grave harm t innumerable persons.” The suit alleges that those threats are credible given God’s history.

The lawsuit resulted from Chambers being angered by another lawsuit that he considers frivolous, and Chambers is trying to make the point that anybody can file a lawsuit against anybody. The lawsuit came about after a federal lawsuit was filed against a judge who recently barred words like “rape” and “victim” from a sexual assault trial.

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Judge Rules Part of Patriot Act Unconstitutional

In what amounts as a major blow to the secretive and questionable practices used by the Bush Administration, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero reportedly ruled against a key part of the USA Patriot Act defending the need for judicial oversight of laws and chastised Congress for passing a law that makes “far-reaching invasions of liberty” possible.

The USA Patriot Act, created after the 9/11 attacks gave broader investigative powers to law enforcement. Under the law, the FBI was allowed to issue so-called “national security letters” (NSL) to companies such as internet service providers and phone companies to demand customers phone and internet records without court supervision required for other governmental searches.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had challenged the law on behalf of an internet service provide. Judge Marrero said that there was much more at stake than questions about the national security letters. He said Congress had essentially tried to legislate how the judiciary must review challenges to the law and if done to other bills, they could ultimately all “be styled to make the validation of the law foolproof.”

After noting that the courthouse where he resides is several blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, Judge Marrero said the Constitution was designed so that the dangers of any given moment could never justify discarding fundamental individual liberties. “When the judiciary lowers its guard on the Constitution, it opens the door to far-reaching invasions of liberty” he said.

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Misadventures of Federal Data-Mining Programs

After spending $42 million since 2003 developing a data-mining software tool known as the Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reportedly scrapped it after investigators found that it was tested with information about real people without required privacy safeguards.

ADVISE was developed at the Lawrence Livermore and Pacific Northwest national laboratories to be used by components of DHS such as Immigration, Customs, Border protection, Biological Defense and its Intelligence office.

In March the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that “the ADVISE tool could misidentify or erroneously associate an individual with undesirable activity such as fraud, crime or terrorism.” The GAO also said the public should be notified by the DHS about how an individual’s personal information would be verified, used and protected before implementing ADVISE on live data.

Since then, the DHS Inspector General and the DHS Privacy Office discovered that tests conducted with ADVISE were using live data about real people instead of made-up data for one to two years without meeting privacy requirements.

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A Bad Case of Federal Data Manipulation

The latest shenanigans involving the concealment and manipulation of data from the Bush Administration includes blocking search engines from indexing key documents and photographs, and changing or deleting things from the war in Iraq on its White House web site. Bush administration officials say it was just a simple mistake.

The latest faux pas was caught by CNET news. It involved using robots.txt files to block certain documents and pages from search engines so they won’t show up in search results. was programmed to block search engines from indexing a photo gallery of President Bush in a flight suit standing in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner from May 2003.

According to the Internet Archive, Bush’s carrier speech was originally titled “President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended” and had pictures of smiling Iraqi children. Since then, the same speech has been renamed “President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.” Notice the photographs in the before and after articles. Supposedly the problem has since been fixed.

Other Federal Sites Being Manipulated

The White House web site isn’t the only one being manipulated. Mike McConnell the Director of National Intelligence blocks search engines from his web site too. Manipulation of the DNI web site was discovered after McConnell gave an “interview” to the El Paso Times (which has since been pulled from their web site but a cached page from Google is available) saying that Americans will die because of the discussion of National Security Agency spying in public and in the U.S. Congress.

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The NSA Wiretapping Program

Until recently, little was known about how data was collected and analyzed by the NSA as part of the “war on terror.” A report from explains in great detail how the FBI quietly built a sophisticated system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device.

The information was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The surveillance system is called DCSNet, short for Digital Collection System Network. It connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by the phone companies, cellular companies and internet-telephony providers and is deeply woven into the telecom infrastructures.

DCSNet is a suite of software used to collect, sift and store phone numbers, phone calls and text messages. Although several details of the system were redacted in the document acquired by the EFF, it’s known that DCSNet includes at least three collection components that run on Windows-based computers:

  • The DCS-3000, aka Red Hook handles pen-registers and trap-and-traces — collects numbers dialed from a telephone
  • The DCS-5000 is a classified system used for wiretaps targeting spies and terrorists
  • The DCS-6000 aka Digital Storm captures and collects content of phone calls and text messages

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Mattel Issues Another Toy Recall

More Mattel and Fisher-Price toys were recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission due to potentially hazardous lead paint again. More bad publicity for toys made in China. Details for each recall are below.

Fisher-Price Recalls Bongo Band Toys Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the firm named below, today announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer product. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.

Name of Product: Big Big World 6-in-1 Bongo Band toys

Units: About 8,900

Importer: Fisher-Price Inc., of East Aurora, N.Y.

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Shining Examples of Military Justice

According to a recent report from MSNBC, government audits into funding from the U.S. Congress to rebuild Iraq show that of the $30 billion given, $8.8 billion has disappeared. So how do you show your appreciation to the men and women who report corruption in the rebuilding of Iraq? If you’re the U.S. Government, you demote, fire, vilify them, or worse.

Donald Vance, a Navy veteran and his colleague, Nathan Ertel were imprisoned by the Amerian military (the same one Vance served) in a security compound outside of Baghdad, classified as security detainees and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics “reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants” when they reported illegal arms sales.

Thinking he was doing the right thing, Vance told the FBI about guns, land mines and rocket-launchers being sold for cash by Shield Group Security Co., the Iraqi-owned company he worked for. No receipts necessary. He told a federal agent Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees were buying them.

Vance supplied photos, documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in Chicago since he didn’t know who to trust in Iraq. In return he got to spend 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison that once held Saddam Hussein outside of Baghdad. Ertel helped gather the evidence. For his trouble, he got to spend a little over a month being detained.

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