June 29, 2013

Missing Nuclear Material May Pose Attack Threat

Missing nuclear material may pose attack threat: IAEA

June 28, 2013

Reuters - Nuclear and radioactive materials are still going missing and the information the United Nations atomic agency receives about such incidents may be the tip of the iceberg, said a senior U.N. official.

Any loss or theft of highly enriched uranium, plutonium or different types of radioactive sources is potentially serious as al Qaeda-style militants could try to use them to make a crude nuclear device or a so-called dirty bomb, experts say.

Khammar Mrabit, a director of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said there had been progress in recent years to prevent that from happening. But he said more still needed to be done to enhance nuclear security.
"You have to improve continuously because also on the other side, the bad guys, they are trying to find ways how to evade such detection," Mrabit said in an interview.

"The threat is global because these people operate without borders," he said on Thursday before an IAEA-hosted meeting of more than 100 states in Vienna next week on how to ensure nuclear materials do not fall into the wrong hands.
The U.N. agency is helping states combat smuggling of uranium, plutonium or other items that could be used for a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb, which uses conventional explosives to scatter radioactive material across a wide area posing health risks and massive cleanup costs.

About 150-200 cases are reported annually to the IAEA's Incident and Trafficking Database. More than 120 countries take part in this information exchange project, covering theft, sabotage, unauthorized access and illegal transfers.

While making clear that most were not major from a nuclear security point of view, Mrabit said some were serious incidents involving nuclear material such as uranium or plutonium.
These incidents mean that "material is still out of regulatory control", said Mrabit, who heads the nuclear security office of the IAEA. "Maybe this is the tip of the iceberg, we don't know, this is what countries report to us."

In one reported case, police in former Soviet Moldova two years ago seized highly enriched uranium carried by smugglers in a shielded container to prevent it from being detected, a sign of increased sophistication of such gangs.

But unlike in the 1990s - after the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union weakened control over its nuclear arsenal - the few cases that are reported involve grams of enriched uranium or plutonium, not kilograms.
"A lot has been improved," Mrabit said.
Analysts say radical groups could theoretically build a crude but deadly nuclear device if they have the money, technical know-how and the amount of fissile material needed.

Obtaining weapons-grade fissile material - highly enriched uranium or plutonium - poses their biggest challenge, so keeping it secure is vital, both at civilian and military facilities.

An apple-sized amount of plutonium in a nuclear device and detonated in a highly populated area could instantly kill or wound hundreds of thousands of people, according to the Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group (NSGEG), a lobby group.

Because radioactive material is seen as less hard to find and the device easier to manufacture, experts say a "dirty bomb" is a more likely threat than a nuclear bomb.

In dirty bombs, conventional explosives are used to disperse radiation from a radioactive source, which can be found in hospitals, factories or other places not very well protected.

George M. Moore, a former senior IAEA analyst, said in an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists last month that "many experts believe it's only a matter of time before a dirty bomb or another type of radioactive dispersal device" is used.
Mrabit said: "Statistically speaking no reasonable person will say that this will never happen. The probability is there."

June 27, 2013

South Korea Raises Growth Forecast on Stimulus But Strength of Recovery Still Weak

SKorea raises growth forecast after stimulus

June 26, 2013

AP - South Korea raised its growth forecast on Thursday to reflect the boost from government stimulus spending.

The finance ministry said in a statement that South Korea's economy will expand 2.7 percent this year, compared with its 2.3 percent estimate three months ago.
South Korea's parliament approved a $15 billion stimulus plan in May as companies are reluctant to step up investments amid an uncertain global economic outlook.

In 2012, South Korea's economic growth hit its lowest level in three years at just 2 percent.

The ministry said the risks that could dent the country's economy have been reduced compared with three months earlier.

But the upward revision does not mean the export-reliant economy is set to enjoy a full-fledged recovery, the finance ministry said.
"If you look at the speed of recovery, it is gradual and moderate," ministry director general Choi Sang-mok told reporters.
Exports have improved but continue to be weighed down by the weak yen which has reduced Japan's demand for South Korean products.

Big companies such as Samsung and Hyundai, which dominate South Korea's economy, are yet to scale up their capital expenditures, indicating that the recovery still largely relies on government stimulus.

Another worry for South Korea's economy is the impending withdrawal of monetary stimulus in the U.S.
But Choi said improvement in the U.S. economy could be a positive factor for South Korea's economy even though financial markets had been rattled by the Federal Reserve's announcement last week that it will scale back its bond-buying program later this year if the U.S. economy continues to recover.

Taxpayer Advocate Soliciting Congress to Compensate Those Affected by the IRS's Targeting

Will IRS Compensate Targeted Victims?

June 26, 2013

Wall Street Cheat Sheet - National taxpayer advocate Nina Olsen is soliciting Congress to compensate those who were affected by the IRS’s targeting. Trying to claim “apology payments” of up to $1,000 for groups affected, Olson called the potential payments more symbolic than anything.

“The rationale for an apology payment is not to compensate the taxpayer fully for his or her time and frustration, but to serve as a symbolic gesture to show that the government recognizes its mistake and the taxpayer’s burden,” Olsen’s report to Congress said.

Earlier this year, Tea Party and conservative groups were discovered to have been targeted by the IRS for additional information and details regarding their application for 501-C (4) status. Groups with the words “patriot” or “tea party” were singled out for inspection against other groups seeking similar status.

Olsen is also investigating what progressive groups were similarly targeted, after the IRS revealed earlier this week that it had also given some amount of scrutiny to progressive groups who also applied for tax-exempt status as a 501-C (4). Olsen claims that the tax-exemption application for one group with a “progressive-sounding name” was delayed for some time for no other reason than the name.

Olsen feels that the government and the IRS are not being straightforward enough with taxpayers in keeping groups informed. Moreover, the nature of these 501-C (4) groups is not cut and dry either, as the law says that they must only not be engaged in politics as their primary purpose. She suggested Congress should either ban political activity by these groups, make it unlimited, or clarify the meaning of “primarily” to forgo future confusion.

Perhaps most concrete of the proposals offered, Olsen’s report advocated groups get the right to sue if their applications are delayed for more than nine months.

The IRS has been the target of a lot of scrutiny over the last few months, as it isn’t only the targeting scandal that has embroiled the agency in controversy. A reports showed the agency has spent excessively, with conferences costing the agency tens of millions over the last few years. Highlights from the conferences included a Star Trek parody video produced by the staff, a “leadership through art” speaker, and presidential suites.

The IRS has also been forced to ask for more funds to oversee the taxes associated with the new healthcare law, but it has received little sympathy from lawmakers in light of the lack of responsibility shown with previous funding.

Israel Approves More East Jerusalem Housing Before Kerry Talks

Israel approves more East Jerusalem housing before Kerry talks

June 26, 2013

Reuters - Israel on Wednesday authorized construction of 69 housing units in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, a decision that may upset U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's push to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Kerry, in the region for the fifth time since March, is due to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Thursday to try to win agreement to renew negotiations that broke down in 2010.

Brachie Sprung, a spokeswoman for the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem, said the city planning commission had approved 69 housing units in Har Homa, an East Jerusalem settlement built more than a decade ago which now houses 12,000 Israelis.

Sprung said the panel had also issued building permits for 22 homes in two Palestinian-populated districts.
Settlement construction has been a main stumbling block in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at establishing a Palestinian state on land Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem soon after the war in a move never recognized internationally.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be capital of the state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. They say Israel must stop building settlements before peace talks resume.
"Resumption of negotiation requires a cessation of all settlement activities," the Palestine Liberation Organisation said in a statement this week.
Israel's housing minister said this month that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had quietly halted housing starts in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since March, but has continued with projects already under way.

IMF Completed Review of Romania’s Progress Under Second Bailout Agreement

IMF Completes Romanian Accord Review After Three-Month Extension

June 26, 2013

Bloomberg - The International Monetary Fund completed its reviews of Romania’s progress under its second bailout agreement after delays in economic overhauls prompted the country to ask for a three-month extension.

The lender’s board of directors agreed to unlock the final approximately 520.7 million-euro ($677.4 million) tranche of the 3.6 billion-euro two-year accord, the IMF said in an e-mailed statement yesterday after a meeting in Washington. The IMF said Romanian authorities are “treating the arrangement as precautionary and do not intend to draw under it.”
“The economy has stabilized. Core inflation remains low, and the fiscal and current account balances are sustainable,” Nemat Shafik, an IMF deputy managing director, said in the statement. “However, growth is weak and downside risks exist. Structural reforms are critical to realizing Romania’s growth potential and creating jobs.”
The eastern European country’s government, which has had two IMF-led deals since 2009, is seeking to start negotiations for a third agreement, pending approval from the European Commission, according to Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

June 23, 2013

EU Discussing How to Shut Failed Banks Without Sowing Panic or Burdening Taxpayers; Losses Could Be Imposed on Large Savers

Europe Unable to Break Impasse on Who Pays When Banks Fail

June 22, 2013

CNBC - Europe failed to agree on how to share the cost of bank collapses on Saturday, as Germany resisted attempts by France to water down rules designed to spare taxpayers in future crises.

Almost 20 hours of talks late into the night could not forge a way for countries to set up an EU-wide regime that would first impose losses on shareholders and bondholders when a bank fails, followed by depositors with more than 100,000 euros ($132,000).

Ministers will make a fresh attempt to break the impasse at a meeting on Wednesday, on the eve of an EU leaders summit, and resolve one of the most difficult questions posed by Europe's banking crisis - how to shut failed banks without sowing panic or burdening taxpayers.
"I think we can reach a deal if we take a few more days," said Michel Barnier, the European commissioner in charge of regulation. "We are not far off now from a political agreement."
The European Union spent the equivalent of a third of its economic output on saving its banks between 2008 and 2011, using taxpayer cash but struggling to contain the crisis and - in the case of Ireland - almost bankrupting the country.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble blamed the complexity of the issue and conflicting interests for not being able to reach a final result on Saturday. One EU official, who asked not to be named, described the meeting as chaotic.

At the heart of the disagreement, chiefly between Germany and France, was how much leeway countries should have when imposing losses on bondholders or large savers, a procedure known as "bail-in."

Such an approach was first tested out in Cyprus' bailout in March, but making it the EU norm would mark a radical departure from the bloc's crisis management in which taxpayers have footed the bill for a string of rescue programmes.

Britain, Sweden and France worry that forcing losses on depositors could cause a bank run or rattle confidence, and want countries to have wide-ranging freedom in deciding whether to take such bold steps.

Spain's Economy Minister Luis de Guindos underscored the sensitivity of the issue.
"What's fundamental is there is agreement over the bail-in hierarchy and the protection of small depositors," he said.
Germany, however, wants strict norms. Schaeuble said the new rules should not vary across the 27-nation European Union because that could put some banks at a competitive disadvantage.
"There's clear disagreement between France and Germany. That's why the meeting broke up," said one EU diplomat.
France's Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici tried to play down any divisions and said a deal was possible next week.


While there is no immediate deadline for an agreement, indecision could hurt confidence in the ability of Europe's politicians to repair the financial system, encourage banks to lend and help the continent emerge from economic stagnation.

An agreement on European rules for closing banks is also a step required by Germany before it will sign off on a scheme for the 17-nation euro zone's bailout fund to help banks in trouble, potentially important in helping Ireland.
"The fact that the euro zone countries are trying to push a solution is very dangerous for the rest of us," Sweden's Finance Minister Anders Borg told reporters.
The regime to ensure that troubled banks are closed in an orderly way sets an important precedent for the euro zone, which is pursuing a project called banking union to supervise, control and support banks to rebuild confidence in the currency.

This scheme aims to form a common front across the single currency area when tackling failed banks, rather than leaving it to countries to manage alone.

At the wider EU level, the so-called resolution rules are needed so that the euro zone can mould its own regime and decide how the bloc's rescue fund helps banks.

Its rules, for example, on pushing losses on large savers, could be made stricter, in particular for banks seeking help from the fund, the European Stability Mechanism.

Euro zone finance ministers agreed late on Thursday to set aside 60 billion euros for banks via the fund.

If agreed, the rules would take effect at the start of 2015 with the provisions to impose losses coming as late as 2018. 

June 21, 2013

State Raising Taxes to Generate More Revenue: Typical State has Collected 8.9 Percent More in Personal Income Taxes So Far This Year Than in the Same Period in 2012; One Quarter of State Revenues Come from Federal Government

Why Those New State Budget Surpluses May Not Last

June 20, 2013

CNBC - State coffers are building back up—some with record surpluses.

But experts warn that reduced tax revenues— along with a return to overspending—could jerk states right back into the red, and quickly.
"Some of the states' deficit reduction is coming from economic growth, but most of it is coming from taxes," said Elizabeth McNichol of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. McNichol authored a study this month on state revenue increases.
The increased revenues came about because many taxpayers front-loaded income into 2012 rather than 2013 in an effort to steer clear of tax plans mandated on the Congressional level, according to McNichol.

The danger for states is getting to depend on those revenues.
"While those taxes filled state budgets at least for now. there's no guarantee they will be there in the future," said McNichol.

"And with cutbacks in funding from the federal government and a slower economy, that could leave states high and dry if they squander surpluses on new government programs or premature tax cuts," she said. "They could be back where they started."
Disappearing Deficits

U.S. state budgets suffered their worst downturn in 70 years from the Great Recession, according to the CPBB. More than half the states had deficits.

But many budget declines are evaporating, if not completely disappearing.

In the midst of an energy and agricultural boom, North Dakota is projecting a $1.6 billion surplus over its two-year budgeting cycle. Texas projects an $8.8 billion surplus over its current two-year budget cycle.

Florida, forced to make deep spending cuts in recent years, projects a $437 million surplus. Ohio expects a surplus of $1 billion, and Iowa a $484 million surplus, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

The biggest turnaround may be in California. The Democratically controlled state legislature in Sacramento just approved a $96.3 billion budget, the third largest in state history, based on a projected surplus of nearly $4.4 billion. Only three years ago, California was running a $60 billion deficit.

Much of the credit for the surplus in the Golden State—coupled with spending cuts—goes to a tax increase voted on by California voters last November that ranged from 9.3 percent to 10.3 percent for individuals making $250,000 to 10.3 percent to 13.3 percent for those making at least $1 million annually.

Resisting the Urge to Squander

It's not just California seeing higher taxes turn to healthier budgets. In the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, all state tax receipts were up 5.7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011.

The CPBB reports that the typical state has collected 8.9 percent more in personal income taxes so far this year than in the same period in 2012. Seven states Florida, Texas, Nevada, Washington, South Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska, don't have a personal income tax.

But states are in danger of reversing their progress if they spend now or try turning surpluses into tax cuts.
"States have to work on a careful balance when it comes to taxes," said Stanley Veliotis, a tax professor at Fordham University.

"On the one hand, they can't raise taxes too high and force businesses and people to move to states with less taxes," Veliotis explained. "On the other hand they can't lower taxes too much and lose out on revenue."
Some states are using their new found money to restore cuts in education and infrastructureFlorida is looking to increase teacher pay, and Tennessee is expected to spend more on health care and its prison system.

California is putting some of its money away for a rainy day fund besides increased spending on education and healthcare.

Others, like Ohio, Iowa and Indiana have lawmakers pushing for state tax cuts.
"States are thinking about cuts, but I think they need to wait and see whether economic growth can continue," said McNichol. "It doesn't make sense to cut taxes now if they're such a main source of revenue."
Future for States?

Of concern for state revenues going forward, according to the CPBB, is that many states still have income tax systems with flat or nearly flat rates. And budget funding levels at states are still below pre-recession levels.

States also have to think about how their future is tied to Capitol Hill.

The federal government, which provides one quarter of state revenues, is cutting back on funding for schools and non-entitlement grants from cuts implemented in 2011. There could be more cutbacks to states on future budget deals out of Washington.

McNichol adds that instead of new programs, states should focus their new found wealth on current problems.
"They should be very cautious about what they do. It should be one time spending needs like infrastructure and paying down their debt instead of new programs," she said.
In the end, says one analyst, taxes and spending cuts remain key points to keeping states in the black.
"You can argue that California needed a tax increase to help its budget problems," said Timothy Nash, a professor of economics at Northwood University.

"But several studies show that lower tax rates are the key to economic growth. You have to hope they will think about lowering taxes sometime soon," Nash argues.

"And having to have balanced budgets is forcing states to make the better decisions now that they have the money," said Nash. (Only Vermont does not have a balanced budget amendment)

"They are actually doing a better job of slowing down the growth of government at their level than the federal government is doing," he said.

Palestinian Islamist Movement Hamas and Turkey's Kurdish Militant Group PKK on the EU Blacklist, and Their Assets in Europe Have Been Frozen

Israel's Netanyahu signals annoyance with EU over Hezbollah

June 20, 2013

Reuters - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced exasperation on Thursday with the European Union's reluctance to classify Lebanon's Hezbollah movement as a terrorist group.
"I mean, it's hard to see how you cannot have a consensus on Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. If Hezbollah isn't a terrorist organization, I don't know what is a terrorist organization," he told Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, at the public start of their meeting in his office.
Responding to Netanyahu, Ashton said:
"I hear what you say, especially on your concerns about what's happening with Hezbollah. And we will talk about these things."
A British proposal to put Hezbollah on the EU's terrorism blacklist was resisted on Wednesday by some of the bloc's 27 members who fear such action would fuel instability in the Middle East, diplomats said.

Britain has argued that the militant Shi'ite Muslim movement should face European sanctions because of evidence it was behind a bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and their driver in July. Hezbollah, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization, denies any involvement in the attack.

Diplomats said some EU governments had questioned whether there was solid evidence of Hezbollah involvement. Bulgaria's new government expressed similar doubts this month, but now says it will not impede blacklisting the group.

The British proposal gained more support in Europe in recent weeks after Hezbollah, an ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, became openly involved in that country's civil war.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in Lebanon in 2006.

In arguing its case, Britain has also pointed to a four-year jail term a court in Cyprus imposed on a Hezbollah member accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

Diplomats say a majority of EU member states, including France and Germany, back the British proposal. But unanimity is needed and Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy have voiced reservations over what would be a major policy shift for the EU.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, and Turkey's Kurdish militant group PKK are already on the EU blacklist, and their assets in Europe have been frozen.

Palestinian Children Tortured, Used as Shields by Israel

Palestinian children tortured, used as shields by Israel: U.N

June 20, 2013

Reuters - A United Nations human rights body accused Israeli forces on Thursday of mistreating Palestinian children, including by torturing those in custody and using others as human shields.

Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, are routinely denied registration of their birth and access to health care, decent schools and clean water, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said.
"Palestinian children arrested by (Israeli) military and police are systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture, are interrogated in Hebrew, a language they did not understand, and sign confessions in Hebrew in order to be released," it said in a report.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it had responded to a report by the U.N. children's agency UNICEF in March on ill-treatment of Palestinian minors and questioned whether the U.N. committee's investigation covered new ground.
"If someone simply wants to magnify their political bias and political bashing of Israel not based on a new report, on work on the ground, but simply recycling old stuff, there is no importance in that," spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Kirsten Sandberg, a Norwegian expert who chairs the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, said the report was based on facts, not on the political opinions of its members.
"We look at what violations of children's rights are going on within Israeli jurisdiction," she told Reuters.
She said Israel did not acknowledge that it had jurisdiction in the occupied territories, but the committee believed it does, meaning it has a responsibility to comply with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The report by its 18 independent experts acknowledged Israel's national security concerns and noted that children on both sides of the conflict continue to be killed and wounded, but that more casualties are Palestinian.

Most Palestinian children arrested are accused of throwing stones, which can carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, the committee said.

The watchdog examined Israel's record of compliance with the children's rights convention as part of its regular review of the pact from 1990 signed by 193 countries, including Israel. An Israeli delegation attended the session.

The U.N. committee rgretted what it called Israel's persistent refusal to respond to requests for information on children in the Palestinian territories and occupied Syrian Golan Heights since the last review in 2002.

"Hundreds of Palestinian children have been killed and thousands injured over the reporting period as a result of (Israeli) military operations, especially in Gaza," the report said.
Israel battled a Palestinian uprising during part of the 10-year period examined by the committee.

It withdrew its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but still blockades the Hamas-run enclave, from where Palestinian militants have sometimes fired rockets into Israel.

During the 10-year period, an estimated 7,000 Palestinian children aged 12 to 17, but some as young as nine, had been arrested, interrogated and detained, the U.N. report said.

Many are brought in leg chains and shackles before military courts, while youths are held in solitary confinement, sometimes for months, the report said.

It voiced deep concern at the "continuous use of Palestinian children as human shields and informants", saying 14 such cases had been reported between January 2010 and March 2013 alone.

Israeli soldiers had used Palestinian children to enter potentially dangerous buildings before them and to stand in front of military vehicles to deter stone-throwing, it said.

Almost all had remained unpunished or had received lenient sentences, according to the report.

Sandberg, asked about Israeli use of human shields, said:
"It has been done more than they would recognize during the dialogue. They say if it happens it is sanctioned. We say it is not harsh enough."

Why Congress Must Investigate NSA's Unconstitutional Spying

Why Congress Must Investigate NSA's Unconstitutional Spying

June 20, 2013

Gizmodo - In the past couple of weeks, the NSA has, unsurprisingly, responded with a series of secret briefings to Congress that have left the public in the dark and vulnerable to misstatements and word games. Congress has many options at its disposal, but for true accountability any response must start with a special investigative committee. A coalition of over 100 civil liberties groups agrees. Such a committee is the right way the American people can make informed decisions about the level of transparency and the reform needed.

A Special Investigatory Committee is the Right Way to Shine the Light and Create True Accountability

A special investigatory committee should be bipartisan, consist of selected Intelligence and Judiciary committee members on both sides of the issue, and have full subpoena powers. After Watergate, Congress created the Church Committee to investigate domestic spying and other illegal actions committed by the intelligence community. What it found was staggering: in one example of abuse, the NSA was reading and copying all telegrams entering and exiting the country. In another, NSA had intercepted, opened and photographed more than 215,000 pieces of mail—mass surveillance circa 1970. The Church Committee brought these revelations to light, informed the American people, and took steps to limit the broad nature of the surveillance.

The contemporary Congress must create a similar, independent, and empowered committee. The President and some members of Congress prefer an investigation by the President’s appointed Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), but the Board is not even empowered to issue subpoenas. And the two key committees that rubber-stamped the expansion of the NSA spying from foreigners-only to ordinary Americans have proven themselves unable to rein in the spying.

President Obama says he welcomes a public debate on the programs. If he’s serious, he and Congress need to take the path of a modern day Church Committee.


Last week, Senators called for an investigation by the PCLOB. The PCLOB was one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and was set up to try to ensure that privacy and civil liberties played a role in the enormous expansion of surveillance laws like the PATRIOT Actand Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act. Yet it has not. Instead, the PCLOB has lingered without a chairman—making it inoperable—for almost five years. It was only until this spring that the Senate finally confirmed David Medine as the chair, however the PCLOB has done little, if anything, since then. That’s because it has no real power. If the PCLOB asked the NSA for certain documents related to the spying, for instance, the NSA would not have to hand the documents over or present testimony under oath. In a hearing this week, General Alexander, the Director of the National Security Agency, committed to cooperating with any investigation by the PCLOB. But given the NSA’s history of gross misdirection, word games and limited answers to direct questions—including General Alexander’s own falsehoods in Congressional testimony—this investigation should not rely on the good will of the NSA. Yet, that’s exactly what the PCLOB would have to rely upon.

Hearings in Front of the Judiciary or Intelligence Committees

Nor do the Judiciary or Intelligence committees hold great promise. These committees should serve as the American people’s robust window into—and constitutional check on—intelligence operations. For instance, in 2005, when the New York Times first reported on the warrantless wiretapping, many hearings took place in front of both the Senate and House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. The Committees certainly did not reveal the full extent of the spying, even though they had the opportunity. Instead, politicians were stonewalled, swallowed grossly misleading answers, and revealed few details.

Currently, the Senate Intelligence committee has met publicly only 2 times this year; from 2011 to 2012 it only met 8 times. The House of Representatives is no different. The House Intelligence committee's Subcommittee on Oversight has not met once this year. Yes, not once. And the full House Intelligence committee has only met four times. History tells us a similar story about the Judiciary Committees.

The public demands for a robust debate require more transparency and tenacity than these committees seem able to provide.

The Secret Veil Must Be Lifted

In short, the lessons of 2005 is that the standing Congressional committees are unable to get at the bottom of the NSA spying and the PCLOB does not have sufficient power to do so either. A special investigative committee with full subpoena powers, the ability to force testimony under oath, and the ability to issue sanctions for failure to cooperate is the best hope that the American people have to ensure the NSA's domestic spying isn't swept under the NSA’s giant secrecy cloak once again. Tell Congress now to act.

20,000 New Federal Border Agents Toting Guns and Government Badges

Immigration Agreement Nears for Billions for Border Security

June 20, 2013

CNBC - White House-backed immigration legislation is gaining momentum in the Senate, where key lawmakers say they are closing in on a bipartisan compromise to spend tens of billions of dollars stiffening the bill's border security requirements without delaying legalization for millions living in the country unlawfully. 
"This is a key moment in the effort to pass this bill. This is sort of the defining 24 to 36 hours," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday night after a day of private talks.
Under the emerging compromise, the government would grant legal status to immigrants living in the United States unlawfully at the same time the additional security was being put into place. Green cards, which signify permanent residency status, would be withheld until the security steps were complete.

Officials described a so-called border surge that envisions doubling the size of the Border Patrol with 20,000 new agents, constructing hundreds of miles of additional fencing along the border with Mexico and purchasing new surveillance drones to track would-be illegal border crossers. The cost of the additional agents alone was put at $30 billion over a decade.

Other details were not immediately available, although it was expected that modifications to the bill would range far beyond border security provisions. The changes under consideration were the result of negotiations involving the bipartisan Gang of Eight who drafted the bill and Republicans seeking alterations before they would commit to voting for it.

Is Immigration Pro-Growth?

Public opinion has shifted on the IRS scandal, and the Senate voted against an immigration proposal. CNBC's Seema Mody reports on tonight's headlines. George Gilder, The Discovery Institute, weighs in.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private.

If agreed to, the changes could clear the way for a strong bipartisan vote within a few days to pass the measure that sits atop President Barack Obama's second-term domestic agenda.

The developments came as Democrats who met with House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday quoted him as saying he expected the House to pass its own version of an immigration bill this summer and Congress to have a final compromise by year's end.

Boehner, R-Ohio, already has said the legislation that goes to the House in the next month or two will not include a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the United States illegally.

Precise details of the pending agreement in the Senate were unavailable, but Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said it involved a major increase of resources to the border, including more manpower, fencing and technology. The underlying legislation already envisions more border agents; additional fencing along the U.S-Mexico border; surveillance drones; a requirement for employers to verify the legal status of potential workers; and a biometric system to track foreigners who enter and leave the United States at air and seaports and by land.

It was unclear what other portions of the legislation might be changed. There is pressure from some Republicans to make sure no federal benefits go to immigrants who are in the country illegally, at least until they become citizens.
"Our whole effort has been to build a bipartisan group that will support the bill," said Hoeven, who has not yet stated a position on the legislation. "That's what this is all about, and it's focused on border security."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the bill's most prominent supporters, said discussions with Republicans "have been really productive. We've made a lot of progress in the last 24 hours. Now we have some vetting to do with our respective allies."

The potential compromise came into focus one day after the Congressional Budget Office jolted lawmakers with an estimate saying that as drafted, the legislation would fail to prevent a steady increase in the future in the number of residents living in the United States illegally.

The estimate appeared to give added credibility to Republicans who have been pressing Democrats to toughen the border security provisions already written into the bill. Schumer and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., met at midday with Graham, Hoeven and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. The Democrats and Graham are part of Gang of Eight.

If ratified, the compromise would mark concessions on both sides.

Some Republicans have been unwilling to support a bill that grants legal status to immigrants in the country illegally until the government certifies that the border security steps have achieved 90 percent effectiveness in stopping would-be border crossers.

On the other hand, Democrats have opposed Republican proposals to make legalization contingent on success in closing the border to illegal crossings. Under the legislation as drafted, legalization could begin as soon as a security plan was drafted, but a 10-year wait is required for a green card.

One plan to change that was sidetracked on a vote of 61-37.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said his proposal would require Congress to vote annually for five years on whether the border is secure. If lawmakers decide it is not, "then the processing of undocumented workers stops until" it is, he said. The decision would be made based on numerous factors, including progress toward completion of a double-layered fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and toward a goal of 95 percent capture of illegal entrants. A system to track the border comings and goings of foreigners is also required.

While the public debate was taking place, lawmakers involved in the private talks expressed optimism.
Across the Capitol, House Republican leaders sought to present a friendlier face to Hispanics—a group that gave Obama more than 70 percent support in last year's presidential election.

Boehner met with the Democratic-dominated Congressional Hispanic Caucus, while rank-and-file members of his party reviewed areas of agreement with Latino religious leaders.
"It's a conversation Republicans want to have," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said later at a news conference outside the Capitol.
Separately, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation creating a program allowing farm workers to come to the United States to take temporary jobs in the United States.

The measure is one of several that the panel is considering in the final weeks of June as part of a piece-by-piece approach to immigration rather than the all-in-one bill that Senate is considering.

Rand Paul threatens to support filibustering immigration bill

June 20, 2013

The Ticket - Sen. Rand Paul plans to support a filibuster of the Senate immigration bill unless it grants Congress more border security oversight, the Kentucky Republican said on Thursday.

Paul does not plan to stand on the Senate floor for 13 hours straight like he did in March to protest President Barack Obama's drone policy, but he will withhold support for a motion to end debate on the bill, a procedural tactic that effectively could block the bill from seeing a final vote.
"Unless they change the bill, I will vote on the side of not ending the debate, which is essentially like a filibuster, but it's not the filibuster people think of," Paul said during an interview on the "Andrea Tantaros Show."
On Wednesday, the Senate rejected an amendment to the immigration bill proposed by Paul that would require the Congress to vote on whether members deem the U.S. borders "secure" every year for five years and mandate the construction of a fence along the border with Mexico. All eight members of the bipartisan group of lawmakers who wrote the original bill voted against Paul's proposal. As the bill is currently written, agencies under the executive branch will determine border security, not Congress.

Paul said he "can't imagine" that proponents of the immigration bill will succeed in persuading him to support the final bill if more border security amendments are rejected.
"If it got stronger, I could consider it, but since they rejected my call to have Congress involved with determining whether the border is secure, I can't imagine how they can get me back unless they come back to me and say, 'We've changed our mind,'" he said. "We would like Congress to be involved in this."

Jobs Lost in Recession are Not Returning Now or Ever

Many firms indicate pre-recession workforce levels are history

June 20, 2013  

UPI - Results of a recent survey indicate many of the jobs lost in the last recession are not returning now or ever, a private U.S. employment firm said Thursday.

The survey conducted by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas involved employers who had eliminated jobs during the recession. The intent was to find out how many jobs have already been recreated, how many are returning in the future and how many might be lost forever.

To start, 53 percent of the human resources executives who responded to the survey indicated that their firms had cut jobs during the December 2007 to June 2009 recession, the firm said.

That said, 82 percent of respondents indicated that they had hired new workers since January 2010.

Of those who have hired workers, 33 percent indicated some of the laid off workers had returned to work and 67 percent indicated that they have built up their workforce starting "from scratch," the outplacement firm said.

In addition, 43 percent of the human resources executives who have returned to hiring indicated their workforces had returned to or surpassed pre-recession levels and 15 percent indicated they intended to return to pre-recession levels in time.

But 43 percent indicated their peak number of workers was in the past. Those executives indicated their firms had no intention bringing their workforce back to pre-recession levels, Challenger, Gray & Christmas said.

Those human resource executives represent a lot of lost jobs. The recession officially ended in June 2009, but the shrinking of the national workforce continued for another seven months, eventually accounting for 8,736,000 lost jobs, National Bureau of Economic Affairs data indicates.
"What we have come to know as 'the jobless recovery' may be the new post-recession norm, as employers rebuild their workforces from scratch, take more time to vet candidates, and find ways to operate with fewer workers," said Chief Executive Officer John Challenger.

"To put that in perspective ... basically, every one of the 8,030,000 jobs created between August 2003 and January 2008 plus another 700,000 were wiped out," Challenger said.
Challenger, however, said jobs were being added to the economy at a faster pace than in the previous two recessions.

The problem is that the job losses were huge.
"It is just taking longer to rebuild due to the fact that we started in a much deeper hole," Challenger said.

Federal Contractor That Checked NSA Leaker Snowden Under Investigation

Firm that checked NSA leaker being probed

June 20, 2013

AP - The government contractor that performed a background investigation of the man who says he disclosed two National Security Agency surveillance programs is under investigation, a government watchdog said Thursday.

Patrick McFarland, the inspector general at the Office of Personnel Management, said during a Senate hearing that the contractor USIS is being investigated and that the company performed a background investigation of Edward Snowden.

McFarland also told lawmakers that there may have been problems with the way the background check of Snowden was done, but McFarland and one of his assistants declined to say after the hearing what triggered the decision to investigate USIS and whether it involved the company's check of Snowden.
"To answer that question would require me to talk about an ongoing investigation. That's against our policy," Michelle Schmitz, assistant inspector general for investigations, told reporters after the hearing. "We are not going to make any comment at all on the investigation of USIS."
USIS, which is based in Falls Church, Va., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she and her staff have been told that the inquiry is a criminal investigation related "to USIS' systemic failure to adequately conduct investigations under its contract" with the Office of Personnel Management.

McCaskill said that USIS conducted a background investigation in 2011 for Snowden, who worked for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden says he is behind the revelations about the NSA's collection of Americans' phone records and Internet data from U.S. Internet companies.
"We are limited in what we can say about this investigation because it is an ongoing criminal matter," McCaskill said. "But it is a reminder that background investigations can have real consequences for our national security."
McFarland told reporters that his office has the authority to conduct criminal investigations.

A background investigation is required for federal employees and contractors seeking a security clearance that gives them access to classified information.

Of the 4.9 million people with clearance to access "confidential and secret" government information, 1.1 million, or 21 percent, work for outside contractors, according to a January report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Of the 1.4 million who have the higher "top secret" access, 483,000, or 34 percent, work for contractors.

FBI Director Admits Agency Uses Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Surveillance on U.S. Soil

Congress surprised by drone use on U.S. soil? It shouldn’t be

June 20, 2013

The Ticket - When it comes to domestic surveillance, sometimes Congress seems like it’s expressing shock and outrage about something it already knows—or should have known. Take the use of drones on U.S. soil. FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted at a hearing this week that his agency uses unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance on U.S. soil. Mueller insisted the FBI used drones “in a very, very minimal way”—but his comments did nothing to quiet the raging debate over privacy rights in the aftermath of National Security Agency spying revelations.

Mueller didn’t help himself when, asked by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whether the FBI had set limits on when drone use on U.S. soil is OK, he replied:
“I will tell you that our footprint is very small. We have very few and have limited use, and we're exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use.” 
It sounded like the drone equivalent of shooting first and then asking questions.
“If there’s a legitimate law-enforcement reason for using them, they ought to say what that law-enforcement reason is,” Grassley later told CNN. “The right of privacy is at stake.”
There’s ample bipartisan fear that drones pose a major threat to privacy. Mueller himself echoed those concerns and invited Congress to impose limits on their use “down the road.”

Grassley also told CNN that it was “absolutely not” known that the FBI used drones on U.S. soil (OK, technically, in U.S. airspace) and called Mueller’s reply “enlightening.”

But FBI use of drones on U.S. soil isn't exactly a state secret. The Associated Press noted in March that "last month, the FBI used drones to maintain continuous surveillance of a bunker in Alabama where a 5-year-old boy was being held hostage." And the use of drones for surveillance on U.S. soil is a well-reported phenomenon. How well? The Congressional Research Service (exactly what it sounds like) produced a 20-page report in April 2013 titled "Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses" (the report was obtained and made public by the Federation of American Scientists).

A critical line in that report:
Within [the Department of Homeland Security], Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) Office of Air and Marine (OAM) has flown missions to support federal and state agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Defense (DOD), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Secret Service, and the Texas Rangers.
And Congress has been funding those kinds of efforts since at least August 2010. That's when a border security bill allocated $32 million to give the authorities two new drones. The legislation cleared the House of Representatives by a voice vote and sailed through the Senate without opposition.

In July 2012, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management held a hearing titled "Using Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the Homeland: Security Game Changer?" Its chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, wasn't shy about using his opening statement to describe the government's use of drones.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection began first looking at using drones back in 2004. Now, CBP owns ten UAS aircraft. These systems have been used to surveil drug smuggling tunnels; video dams, bridges, levees, and riverbeds at risk of flooding; and assist with the deployment of National Guard resources responding to local flooding. CBP has flown missions in support of the Border Patrol, Texas Rangers, U.S. Forest Service, FBI, and others. These systems have become a force multiplier for military operations and border security.
None of this argues for complacency. Much of what the federal government has disclosed about its drone use we owe to dogged efforts by groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has produced a peerless body of work on the issueright down to a map of installations and institutions that have the green light to fly drones on U.S. soil.

But when it comes to congressional oversight, voters might do well to remember the example of another authority figure who was "shocked, shocked" to find inappropriate behavior.

The Fed Engineered the Public Pension Crisis to Bankrupt the States, Pit Neighbor Against Neighbor, and Create Civil Unrest

Flashback: Obama Cannot Be Reelected in 2012 Unless Union Pockets are Full of Taxpayer Money and Dues

March 13, 2011

Right Coast Conservative - Obama cannot be reelected in 2012 unless union pockets are full of taxpayer money and dues from members who are coerced to join them (and voting union members who think he will give them stuff!).

Frankly, Obama and those behind him want to create chaos because they know chaos will lead to civil unrest.

The people driving the unions want civil unrest because then people look to government to literally save them. Believe me, what is going on in the Middle East is connected to what is happening here—they are the same agitators.

Some of these union leaders were in Egypt helping the Revolution along!

As we go into the next tumultuous weeks, keep in mind, the enemy of the Tea Party is not your average apolitical local teacher, fireman or policeman, but the union leaders who are using regular folks as their foils for changing our form of government.

Pensions are simply a pretense for creating division and strife. Progressives (Socialists, Marxists, whatever you want to call them) know this is the best chance they have had in a century to “change” America and it is slipping away from them—Obama has less than two years (we hope it’s only two) to get it done! They know that, and they are desperate.

I repeat, this is not about pensions! This is about creating civil unrest and pitting neighbor against neighbor to bring America, as we know it and love it, to its knees!

Chicago Teachers' Union Chief Doesn't Care If Politicians Fleece the Taxpayers to Give Them the Standard of Living in Which They've Grown Accustomed (It's NOT About the Children, It's About Their Salaries, Benefits and Lifetime Pensions)

June 20, 2013

The Daily Caller - In a scathing speech on Wednesday, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union charged that racism and “rich white people” are to blame for the immense financial crisis facing the Chicago Public Schools.

In her remarks to an audience at the upscale City Club of Chicago, union boss Karen Lewis strongly criticized Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. She also urged the city schools to follow the strategic blueprint of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
“Members of the status quo — the people who are running the schools and advising the mayor on how to best run our district — know what good education looks like because they have secured it for their own children in well-resourced public and private institutions,” the Dartmouth graduate charged.

“When will there be an honest conversation about the poverty, racism and inequality that hinders the delivery of a quality education product in our school system?” Lewis also asked in the speech. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”
The union leader then questioned the motives of “venture capitalists” who have expressed a desire to improve the quality of education for poor and minority students.
“There is something about these folks who love the kids but hate the parents,” Lewis inveighed. “There’s something about these folks who use little black and brown children as stage props at one press conference while announcing they want to fire, layoff or lock up their parents at another press conference.”
Lewis called for “an end to corporate subsidies and loopholes.” She demanded “progressive taxation” to close the $1 billion budget deficit currently facing the Second City and its public schools.  

(RELATED: It’s official: Chicago Public Schools will close 49 elementary schools for good)

Higher income tax rates on wealthy residents would generate billions in necessary revenue, the union chief suggested. She also proposed new taxes for commuters and for financial transfers.

In her closing remarks, Lewis, a self-professed Chicago White Sox fan, suggested that the Chicago Public Schools would be wise to emulate the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise.
“When the Cubs lose a game they don’t call for Wrigley Field to close down. They don’t want the entire team dismantled. Despite empty seats, the stadium isn’t accused of being underutilized,” she said.
Lewis, who obviously spends little time listening to Chicago’s two main sports radio stations, also suggested that “no one questions” the salaries of Chicago baseball players.
“Year after year — despite individual player performance, despite game losses and near wins — the fans show continue to show up. We keep cheering for our Cubbies. We know they are winners. We dream. We believe,” Lewis said.

“Do the same for our children,” she implored. “Cheer them on. Invest in them. Love them. Support their parents. Support their teachers. Support their schools. Let’s work together. Let’s win, Chicago. Let’s win.”
The Chicago Cubs famously have not won a World Series since 1908 (or a National League pennant since 1945). The team is currently in next-to-last place in Major League Baseball’s National League Central division — 16 games out of first place.

Shortfalls in Detroit's Pension Funds Among the Most Difficult Problems Facing the City

Detroit emergency manager launches pension corruption probe

June 20, 2013

Reuters - Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is ordering a joint investigation into the city's two pension funds, in search of evidence of suspected fraud, corruption, waste and other possible malfeasance.

Orr, a restructuring attorney appointed to reduce the city's runaway debt, signed an order on Thursday that calls for the city's auditor general and inspector general to investigate the funds, which handle pension benefits for more than 20,000 retirees.
"There have been many questionable investments that have been made by the fund boards, and some of those investments were made without the advice of their financial adviser," Orr's spokesman, Bill Nowling, said on Thursday. "We want to find out what happened."
Orr called for a preliminary report to be issued within the next 60 days.
"The EM believes that any such waste, fraud, abuse, or corruption in the administration operation or implementation of Benefit Programs harms the City and its residents, and that identifying and correcting such waste, abuse, fraud, or corruption is necessary and appropriate to carry out the purposes" of the state law that created the emergency manager position, Orr wrote in the order.
The investigation takes place at a time when Orr is meeting with creditors, union leaders and others with an eye toward seeking financial concessions. Orr has said Detroit will end up in bankruptcy court if creditors do not accept considerable reductions in what the city owes.

The order comes on the same day unions are meeting with Orr's restructuring team to discuss the emergency manager's plan to shift retirees from city-operated healthcare to Medicare or the Affordable Care Act.

Shortfalls in the city's pension funds are among the most difficult problems facing Detroit, and pension payments to retirees are among issues being discussed in some of the meetings Orr and his staff are holding as he seeks to stave off a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing.

This is not the first time corruption has been suspected in Detroit's pension systems. Earlier this month, Detroit-based investment adviser Chauncey Mayfield agreed to give back $3.1 million that U.S. regulators allege he stole from a pension fund for the city's police and firefighters.

The city's former treasurer, Jeffrey Beasley, also has been charged with taking bribes in exchange for steering business to Mayfield.

The government has taken action against others allegedly involved in pension-related corruption during the administration of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. In March, two former Detroit city pension officials were indicted, a week after Kilpatrick was convicted for similar offenses.

IMF Says Greece Will Avoid Funding Problems If It Delivers on Bailout Program

Greece to avoid funding problems if it delivers on bailout program: IMF

June 20, 2013

Reuters - The International Monetary Fund on Thursday urged Greece to speedily deliver on its bailout program, adding that doing so would ensure the country encounters "no financing problems."

There is an ongoing review of the Greek bailout program, the IMF said on Thursday.
"If the review is concluded by the end of July, as expected, no financing problems will arise because the program is financed till end-July 2014," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said in a brief statement.
The Financial Times reported on Thursday the IMF might suspend aid to Greece next month unless euro zone leaders plugged a funding gap in the Greek rescue program.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that European foot-dragging could leave Greece some 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) short this year as some euro zone creditors were reluctant to roll over their Greek debt holdings.

Greece's creditors - euro zone countries, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - agreed last December that the bloc's 17 national central banks would replace some of the Greek bonds they hold with new Greek paper as the debt matures.

This measure, called the "rollover of ANFA holdings", was expected to spare Greece from having to redeem 3.7 billion euros of debt in 2013-2014 and 1.9 billion euros in 2015-2016.

But the bond rollover has hit a snag because some central bankers are worried that it might be seen as direct financing of the Greek government, Greek officials told Reuters. The law governing the ECB forbids it from such direct financing.

The Financial Times, quoting an unnamed source who it said was involved in the discussions, said the IMF had warned EU officials that the financing gap would require it to stop aid payments at the end of July.
"There is an ongoing review of the Greek program; the mission that concluded yesterday has made important progress; policy discussions have paused and are expected to resume by the end of the month," Rice said, responding to press enquiries.

215 Program: Section of Anti-terror Patriot Act That Authorizes the NSA to Collect Americans' Phone Records

The numbers game muddies NSA surveillance debate

June 20, 2013

AP - Seeking to win over public trust, the Obama administration has been throwing around a lot of numbers as it tries to describe — in as much detail as possible without jeopardizing national security — the terror plots it says were thwarted by the government's sweeping surveillance of U.S. communications.

There's 50, 12, 10 and four. You also hear 20 and 90 in statements and official testimony, and even 702 and 215, though those aren't for estimates of plots.

The numbers game is just part of the effort to convince skeptical Americans that the recently disclosed National Security Agency spy programs are vital in detecting and stopping extremist plots. But the approach has produced relatively limited, often vague information, and it has ended up confusing many in Congress as lawmakers grapple with how to assure people that their privacy rights are protected along with their security.

There are questions about effectiveness that still lack answers, "and we've gotten some answers that need further clarity," House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Thursday. He was referring to the so-called 215 program, which refers to the section of the anti-terror Patriot Act that authorizes the NSA to collect Americans' phone records.

And, he added, "we also should ask in those cases where it was successful, how dated were the records."

Another NSA program — known as 702 — authorizes the agency to sweep up Internet usage data from all over the world that goes through nine major U.S.-based providers.

Officials have used the rest of the numbers in Capitol Hill testimony over the past week as they have sought to allay Americans' concerns that the programs violate their privacy.

Top officials told Congress that the programs have been key in thwarting at least 50 terror plots across 20 countries. And, they said, an estimated 10 to 12 of those plots were directed at the U.S. They publicly offered four examples among the 50-plus cases:

—An NSA-provided phone record led authorities to identify a terrorist financier in San Diego who was arrested in 2007.

—The NSA's surveillance of Internet usage in 2009 revealed that a Chicago man, David Headley, was plotting to bomb a Danish newspaper that had published a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce said. The FBI had been tipped off that Headley was involved in the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

—Information from the NSA's Internet usage surveillance of overseas operatives helped thwart a 2009 plot to blow up the New York City subway system. NSA Director General Keith Alexander said this information led investigators to Najibullah Zazi in Colorado. And the phone records collection gave investigators the connections between Zazi and his associates. Zazi ultimately pleaded guilty and provided information that helped send two of his friends to prison.

—A plot to blow up the New York Stock Exchange was thwarted in its early planning stages because the NSA was able identify an extremist in Yemen who was in touch with Khalid Ouazzani in Kansas City, Mo., Joyce said. This enabled investigators to identify co-conspirators and prevent the attack he said. Ouazzani pleaded guilty in May 2010 in federal court in Missouri to charges of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, bank fraud and money laundering. Ouazzani was not charged with the alleged plot against the stock exchange.

The administration has yet to provide firm numbers of precisely how many plots have been stopped worldwide because of these programs — in part because intelligence officials are still trying to figure that out.
"The reason I'm not giving you a specific number is we want the rest of the community to actually beat those up and make sure that everything we have there is exactly right," Alexander said Tuesday during a House intelligence committee hearing.
"I'd give you the number 50-X, but if somebody says, 'Well, not this one. Actually, what we're finding out is there's more. They said you missed these three or four.'"
Alexander said,
"These programs are immensely valuable for protecting our nation and securing the security of our allies." 
And the NSA's authorization to sweep up Internet usage data has contributed to 90 percent of the information used to thwart at least 50 terror plots Alexander and his deputy told lawmakers.

On Wednesday, outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that there are 10 to 12 cases in which the phone records surveillance program, authorized in the Patriot Act, contributed to breaking up terror plots.

He said that "of those, domestically, I think there will be anywhere from 10 or 12 where 215 was important in some way, shape or form."

But later in the same hearing, Mueller said he's not actually sure if it was the phone records authorization that helped thwart terror attacks in the 10 to 12 cases.
"I'm not sure whether all of them are 215. They're a combination or the other," Mueller said, referring to the phone records program and Internet usage programs.
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson referred requests for clarification to the NSA and National Counterterrorism Center. He said Mueller "was obviously unclear on the breakdown" since the FBI is not compiling the list of cases.

The confusion has, predictably, given rise to demands for more transparency by the intelligence agencies.
A growing number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers are pushing plans to open secret court orders authorizing the surveillance. Schiff, who filed House legislation on Thursday to match a similar Senate proposal, said it aimed at "allowing Americans to know how the court has interpreted the legal authorities" to ensure they are not being overly or improperly intrusive.

Additionally, a group of mostly Democratic senators are seeking to amend the Patriot Act to require the government to cite specific suspected links to terrorism or espionage before asking the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to approve the collection of Americans' phone records.

But the legislation isn't likely to be approved quickly, and confusion continues to hang over Congress and its constituents.

Noting frustration, Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said trying to balance support for classified intelligence programs against a transparent democracy is always a challenge. But all concerned agree the current situation has fueled public skepticism.
"The public trusts their government to protect the country from another 9/11-type attack," Rogers said this week, "but that trust can start to wane when they are faced with inaccuracies, half-truths and outright lies about the way the intelligence programs are being run."

FBI Admits That Obeying The Constitution Just Takes Too Much Time

FBI Admits That Obeying The Constitution Just Takes Too Much Time

June 20, 2013

Tech Dirt - While much of the news coverage of FBI Director Robert Mueller's Congressional hearing this week focused on his admission that the FBI has used drones domestically, there were some other points raised, including his "defense" of the broad surveillance techniques that appears to amount to the idea that it just takes too long to obey the Constitution and go through the proper procedures before getting information:
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Mueller addressed a proposal to require telephone companies to retain calling logs for five years — the period the N.S.A. is keeping them — for investigators to consult, rather than allowing the government to collect and store them all. He cautioned that it would take time to subpoena the companies for numbers of interest and get the answers back.

“The point being that it will take an awful long time,” Mr. Mueller said.
Well, shucks. Having some amount of oversight, someone in a position to make sure that the data requested is legit would just take too long? It seems like Mueller maybe has been watching too many episodes of 24. First off, it does not take an "awful" long time. Law enforcement has regularly been able to go through legal processes to get a wiretap or subpoena other information very, very rapidly, especially when they make it clear it's an emergency situation. But the fact is, it's unlikely that most of these searches are such a timely emergency that they need the data now, and can't wait an hour or so until an employee at the telco can retrieve it for them.

Mueller later made some outrageous claims about how long it would take the telcos to respond to a request for information following the standard procedures in an emergency.
“In this particular area, where you’re trying to prevent terrorist attacks, what you want is that information as to whether or not that number in Yemen is in contact with somebody in the United States almost instantaneously so you can prevent that attack,” he said. “You cannot wait three months, six months, a year to get that information, be able to collate it and put it together. Those are the concerns I have about an alternative way of handling this.”

Mr. Mueller did not explain why it would take so long for telephone companies to respond to a subpoena for calling data linked to a particular number, especially in a national security investigation.
He didn't explain it because it wouldn't take that long -- especially with the telcos who generally have a cozy relationship with law enforcement and a "how high?" response to the "jump!" command from the government.

Yes, I'm sure it's more convenient for the government to not have to wait an hour or so to get this info. And it's more convenient not to have to wait for a telco employee to make sure the request is legit and to retrieve the info, but we don't get rid of our Constitutional protections because of convenience for the surveillance state. The whole point of the rights of the public against such intrusions is that we, as a country, have made a conscious choice that surveillance over the population is not supposed to be convenient. It's supposed to involve careful checks and balances to avoid abuse. It's a shame that so many in our own government don't seem to recognize this basic point.

Mueller also admitted that the goal is to collect as much data as possible to "connect the dots."
“What concerns me is you never know which dot is going to be key,” he said. “What you want is as many dots as you can. If you close down a program like this, you are removing dots from the playing field,” he said. “Now, you know, it may make that decision that it’s not worth it. But let there be no mistake about it. There will be fewer dots out there to connect” in trying to prevent the next terrorist attack.
Again, this is an anti-Constitutional argument. It's an argument that says any violation of privacy and civil liberties is okay if something collected might possibly be useful later. But that's not how we're supposed to do things in the US. We're only supposed to allow law enforcement to collect the dots if there's evidence that the dots show some law being broken. Furthermore, we've already seen that having lots of dots actually makes it harder to connect the dots. Since Mueller is one of the folks who has claimed that today's system might have prevented 9/11, he ought to know that the 9/11 Commission never said that an absence of dots was the problem leading to the attack, but rather the failure of existing agencies to actually do anything with the dots/evidence they had. Collecting more dots doesn't make you any more likely to connect them. In fact, it's much more likely to send you on a wild goose chase -- including some that will potentially infringe upon the rights of innocent people.

U.S. Food Stamp Program Doubled in the Past Five Years

House rejects farm bill, 62 Republicans vote no

House rejects massive farm bill that would have cut food stamps; 62 Republicans vote no

<p> Chart shows federal food stamp participation since 1969; 2c x 3 inches; 96.3 mm x 76 mm;

Chart shows federal food stamp participation since 1969

June 20, 2013

AP - The House rejected a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill Thursday that would have cut $2 billion annually from food stamps and let states impose broad new work requirements on those who receive them.

Those cuts weren't deep enough for many Republicans who objected to the cost of the nearly $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, which has doubled in the past five years. The vote was 234-195 against the bill, with 62 Republicans voting against it.

The bill also suffered from lack of Democratic support necessary for the traditionally bipartisan farm bill to pass. Only 24 Democrats voted in favor of the legislation after many said the food stamp cuts could remove as many as 2 million needy recipients from the rolls. The addition of the optional state work requirements by Republican amendment just before final passage turned away many remaining Democratic votes.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, both of whom voted for the bill, immediately took to the House floor and blamed the other's party for the defeat. Cantor said it was a "disappointing day" and that Democrats had been a "disappointing player."

Hoyer suggested that Republicans voted for the food stamp work requirements to tank the bill.
"What happened today is you turned a bipartisan bill, necessary for our farmers, necessary for our consumers, necessary for the people of America, that many of us would have supported, and you turned it into a partisan bill," he said.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the farm bill last week, with about $2.4 billion a year in overall cuts and a $400 million annual decrease in food stamps — one-fifth of the House bill's food stamp cuts. The White House was supportive of the Senate version but had issued a veto threat of the House bill.

If the two chambers cannot come together on a bill, farm-state lawmakers could push for an extension of the 2008 farm bill that expires in September or negotiate a new bill with the Senate and try again. Some conservatives have suggested separating the farm programs and the food stamps into separate bills. Farm-state lawmakers have for decades added food stamps to farm bills to garner urban votes for the rural bill. But that marriage has made passage harder this year.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said Thursday that the committee is assessing all its options and will continue its work in the "near future."

Just before the vote, Lucas pleaded with his colleagues' support, saying that if the measure didn't pass people would use it as an example of a dysfunctional Congress.
"If it fails today I can't guarantee you'll see in this Congress another attempt," he said.
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said he believes the work requirements and a vote that scuttled a proposed dairy overhaul turned too many lawmakers against the measure.
"I had a bunch of people come up to me and say I was with you but this is it, I'm done," Peterson said after the vote.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, voted for the bill but lobbied for the dairy amendment that caused some dairy-state lawmakers to eventually turn on the legislation. Cantor vocally supported the amendment that imposed the work requirements, coming to the House floor just before that vote and the final vote to endorse it.

Though passage has been in the balance all week, the vote against the bill was larger than many expected. When the final vote count was read, House Democrats cheered loudly, led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus who had fought the food stamp cuts.

The defeat is also a major victory for conservative taxpayer groups and environmental groups who have unsuccessfully worked against the bill for years. Those groups have aggressively lobbied lawmakers in recent weeks, hoping to capitalize on the more than 200 new members of the House since the last farm bill passed five years ago. Many of those new members are conservative Republicans who replaced moderate rural Democrats who had championed farm policy.

Those groups were emboldened after the vote.
"We need to put farm subsidies on a path to elimination and we need to devolve food stamps to the state level where they belong," said Chris Chocola, president of the conservative advocacy group Club for Growth.