Friday, December 30, 2005
Now then, it just keeps getting worse for the NSA. First the wiretaps, and now this (have to love the "it was an accident!" defense):
NEW YORK - The National Security Agency's Internet site has been placing files on visitors' computers that can track their Web surfing activity despite strict federal rules banning most of them.
These files, known as "cookies," disappeared after a privacy activist complained and The Associated Press made inquiries this week, and agency officials acknowledged Wednesday they had made a mistake.
Nonetheless, the issue raises questions about privacy at a spy agency already on the defensive amid reports of a secretive eavesdropping program in the United States.
"Considering the surveillance power the NSA has, cookies are not exactly a major concern," said Ari Schwartz, associate director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "But it does show a general lack of understanding about privacy rules when they are not even following the government's very basic rules for Web privacy."
Until Tuesday, the NSA site created two cookie files that do not expire until 2035 — likely beyond the life of any computer in use today.
Don Weber, an NSA spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday that the cookie use resulted from a recent software upgrade. Normally, the site uses temporary, permissible cookies that are automatically deleted when users close their Web browsers, he said, but the software in use shipped with persistent cookies already on.
"After being tipped to the issue, we immediately disabled the cookies," he said.
Strict federal rules
Cookies are widely used at commercial Web sites and can make Internet browsing more convenient by letting sites remember user preferences. For instance, visitors would not have to repeatedly enter passwords at sites that require them.
But privacy advocates complain that cookies can also track Web surfing, even if no personal information is actually collected.
In a 2003 memo, the White House's Office of Management and Budget prohibits federal agencies from using persistent cookies — those that aren't automatically deleted right away — unless there is a "compelling need."
Peter Swire, a Clinton administration official who had drafted an earlier version of the cookie guidelines, said clear notice is a must, and "vague assertions of national security, such as exist in the NSA policy, are not sufficient."
Daniel Brandt, a privacy activist who discovered the NSA cookies, said mistakes happen, "but in any case, it's illegal. The (guideline) doesn't say anything about doing it accidentally."
Thursday, December 29, 2005I'm still undecided, but between this and the reaction to the UN finding no tampering in the election, I'm wondering if things are abut to explode.
About 12 Shia Muslims have been killed by insurgents who broke into their homes south of Baghdad, officials say.
The victims were reported to be members of the same extended family, living in the mainly Sunni town of Latifiya, about 30km (20 miles) south of Baghdad.
"Gunmen broke into three houses in Latifiya at dawn on Thursday," Iraqi Army Capt Ibrahim Abdullah said.
"[They] took 12 males aged between 20 to 40 and put them into a minivan... and machine gunned them," he told AP.
There were differing reports of the incident and who was involved.
The AFP news agency said 14 people were killed, some of them women.
Reuters said the killings took place inside a house, where intruders slit the throats of 11 men and women.
Police said the family had been warned by insurgents to move out of the largely Sunni district, but had not done so, Reuters reported.
Also on Thursday, a suicide bomber killed four police officers at a checkpoint near the interior ministry in Baghdad, officials said.
The attacker was dressed in a police uniform and blew himself up as police cars were entering the ministry, a police source said.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005Conservative politician is trying to distance himself from the loonies in an attempt to run for higher office? He just MIGHT not have the courage of his convictions? You're crazy!
Santorum Breaks With Christian-Rights Law Center
Friday, December 23, 2005; Page A11
PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 22 -- Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) withdrew on Thursday his affiliation from the Christian-rights law center that defended a school district's policy requiring the teaching of "intelligent design."
Santorum, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, is facing a tough reelection challenge next year. Earlier, he praised the Dover Area School District for "attempting to teach the controversy of evolution."
But the day after a federal judge ruled that the district's policy on intelligent design is unconstitutional, Santorum told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was troubled by testimony indicating that religion motivated some school board members to adopt the policy.
Santorum was on the advisory board of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which defended the district's policy. "I thought the Thomas More Law Center made a huge mistake in taking this case and in pushing this case to the extent they did," Santorum said. He said he will end his affiliation with the center.
The leading Democratic challenger in Santorum's 2006 reelection bid, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., accused him of backtracking. Casey spokesman Larry Smar said that Santorum's statements were "yet another example of 'Election Year Rick' changing his positions for political expediency." Casey has led Santorum in recent polls.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the center, said Santorum's withdrawal came as no surprise because, several weeks earlier, the senator had indicated that he was unhappy with the center's involvement in the case. "It is a very controversial issue, as you know, and he is involved in a very hotly contested Senate race, and it's probably in his best interest," Thompson said Thursday.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled Tuesday that the Dover district's policy of requiring students in biology class to hear a statement about intelligent design is "a pretext . . . to promote religion in the public school classroom." The statement says Darwin's theory is "not a fact." It refers students to an intelligent-design textbook.
Intelligent design's proponents hold that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by a higher force rather than evolving from more primitive forms. Critics, including those who challenged the district, say it amounts to a secular repackaging of creationism, which courts have ruled cannot be taught in public schools.
In 2002, Santorum said in a Washington Times op-ed article that intelligent design "is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes."
Tuesday, December 27, 2005Truthout: The Bush Administration used the NSA to spy on UN diplomats in the push to invade Iraq.
NSA Spied on UN Diplomats in Push for Invasion of Iraq
By Norman Solomon
Despite all the news accounts and punditry since the New York Times published its Dec. 16 bombshell about the National Security Agency's domestic spying, the media coverage has made virtually no mention of the fact that the Bush administration used the NSA to spy on UN diplomats in New York before the invasion of Iraq.
That spying had nothing to do with protecting the United States from a terrorist attack. The entire purpose of the NSA surveillance was to help the White House gain leverage, by whatever means possible, for a resolution in the UN Security Council to green light an invasion. When that surveillance was exposed nearly three years ago, the mainstream US media winked at Bush's illegal use of the NSA for his Iraq invasion agenda.
Back then, after news of the NSA's targeted spying at the United Nations broke in the British press, major US media outlets gave it only perfunctory coverage - or, in the case of the New York Times, no coverage at all. Now, while the NSA is in the news spotlight with plenty of retrospective facts, the NSA's spying at the UN goes unmentioned: buried in an Orwellian memory hole.
A rare exception was a paragraph in a Dec. 20 piece by Patrick Radden Keefe in the online magazine Slate, which pointedly noted that "the eavesdropping took place in Manhattan and violated the General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the Headquarters Agreement for the United Nations, and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, all of which the United States has signed."
But after dodging the story of the NSA's spying at the UN when it mattered most - before the invasion of Iraq - the New York Times and other major news organizations are hardly apt to examine it now. That's all the more reason for other media outlets to step into the breach.
In early March 2003, journalists at the London-based Observer reported that the NSA was secretly participating in the US government's high-pressure campaign for the UN Security Council to approve a pro-war resolution. A few days after the Observer revealed the text of an NSA memo about US spying on Security Council delegations, I asked Daniel Ellsberg to assess the importance of the story. "This leak," he replied, "is more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers." The key word was "timely."
Publication of the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, made possible by Ellsberg's heroic decision to leak those documents, came after the Vietnam War had been underway for many years. But with an invasion of Iraq still in the future, the leak about NSA spying on UN diplomats in New York could erode the Bush administration's already slim chances of getting a war resolution through the Security Council. (Ultimately, no such resolution passed before the invasion.) And media scrutiny in the United States could have shed light on how Washington's war push was based on subterfuge and manipulation.
"As part of its battle to win votes in favor of war against Iraq," the Observer had reported on March 2, 2003, the US government developed an "aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the e-mails of UN delegates." The smoking gun was "a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency - the US body which intercepts communications around the world - and circulated to both senior agents in his organization and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency." The friendly agency was Britain's Government Communications Headquarters.
The Observer explained: "The leaked memorandum makes clear that the target of the heightened surveillance efforts are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the UN headquarters in New York - the so-called 'Middle Six' delegations whose votes are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the US and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for UN inspections, led by France, China and Russia."
The NSA memo, dated Jan. 31, 2003, outlined the wide scope of the surveillance activities, seeking any information useful to push a war resolution through the Security Council - "the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises."
Now, then. This is an interesting story. It seems that the US Ambassador to the UK, Robert Tuttle, first had one slip of the tongue regarding the practice of rendition especially relating to one case in particular, then backtracked on his statement and still left the door open to the existence of rendition. Nice. I believe this is known as the "that never happened! And it wasn't that bad!" defense...
The US embassy in London was forced to issue a correction yesterday to an interview given by the ambassador, Robert Tuttle, in which he claimed America would not fly suspected terrorists to Syria, which has one of the worst torture records in the Middle East. A statement acknowledged media reports of a suspect taken from the US to Syria.
Although Mr Tuttle, a Beverly Hills car dealer and major donor to George Bush's re-election campaign, has been ambassador in London only since the summer, he is proving to be accident-prone. Last month he vigorously denied British media reports that American forces used white phosphorus as a weapon in Iraq, only to be undercut by an admission from the Pentagon the next day.
Maher Arar, a Canadian software engineer of Syrian descent, says he was arrested in New York in 2002 and transferred to Jordan, then to Syria, where he said he was tortured. The US use of Syria for rendition sits uneasily with Washington's portrayal of the country as a pariah state. The Guardian has reported the CIA used British airports to refuel for rendition flights, which would contravene British law.
Asked if he knew whether the US had sought permission from Britain, Mr Tuttle said Ms Rice had maintained that rendition would respect each country's sovereignty. His reply would seem to imply the US had sought permission, possibly leaving the British government open to challenge.
Mr Tuttle gave an interview to the BBC Today programme on Thursday for broadcast yesterday morning. On Friday, the US embassy returned to the BBC with a lengthy statement of clarification, which was also broadcast yesterday at the end of the interview.
Asked by the BBC if the US dumped suspects in Syria, Mr Tuttle said: "I don't think there is any evidence that there have been any renditions carried out in the country of Syria. There is no evidence of that. And I think we have to take what the secretary [Condoleezza Rice] says at face value. It is something very important, it is done very carefully and she has said we do not authorise, condone torture in any way, shape or form."