Sep 11th, 2006 by ravi
Your tax $ at work: torture insurance

WaPo says:

Worried CIA Officers Buy Legal Insurance

CIA counterterrorism officers have signed up in growing numbers for a government-reimbursed, private insurance plan that would pay their civil judgments and legal expenses if they are sued or charged with criminal wrongdoing, according to current and former intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the program.

The new enrollments reflect heightened anxiety at the CIA that officers may be vulnerable to accusations they were involved in abuse, torture, human rights violations and other misconduct, including wrongdoing related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They worry that they will not have Justice Department representation in court or congressional inquiries, the officials said.

The anxieties stem partly from public controversy about a system of secret CIA prisons in which detainees were subjected to harsh interrogation methods, including temperature extremes and simulated drowning. The White House contends the methods were legal, but some CIA officers have worried privately that they may have violated international law or domestic criminal statutes.

[...]

Isn’t government funded private insurance a wonderful thing? Perhaps they offer similar plans for al Qaeda?

[ Link ]

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Aug 19th, 2006 by ravi
Anti-NSA ruling: technical problems?

The experts don’t like the technicalities of the decision against the NSA illegal snooping programme:

NYT: Experts Fault Reasoning in Surveillance Decision Even legal experts who agreed with a federal judge’s conclusion on Thursday that a National Security Agency surveillance program is unlawful were distancing themselves from the decision’s reasoning and rhetoric yesterday. They said the opinion overlooked important precedents, failed to engage the government’s major arguments, used circular reasoning, substituted passion for analysis and did not even offer the best reasons for its own conclusions. Discomfort with the quality of the decision is almost universal, said Howard J. Bashman, a Pennsylvania lawyer whose Web log provides comprehensive and nonpartisan reports on legal developments. “It does appear,” Mr. Bashman said, “that folks on all sides of the spectrum, both those who support it and those who oppose it, say the decision is not strongly grounded in legal authority.” The main problems, scholars sympathetic to the decision’s bottom line said, is that the judge, Anna Diggs Taylor, relied on novel and questionable constitutional arguments when more straightforward statutory ones were available. [...]

I am not sure I buy into this entirely. Jonathan Turley seemed to think well of the trial/judgement in his appearance on Keith Olberman’s Countdown.

Update: Laurence Tribe doesn’t agree with the criticism of Judge Taylor’s judgement, either.

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Aug 17th, 2006 by ravi
UK Terror: Fake News?

Couldn’t they get Karl Rove to once over these episodes before they play them out?

Craig Murray – The UK Terror plot: what’s really going on?

[...]

So this, I believe, is the true story.

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn’t be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year – like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes – which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn’t give is the truth.

The gentleman being “interrogated” had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.

We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for “Another 9/11″. The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled.

[Link]

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Aug 16th, 2006 by ravi
Cheney/Rove forced to testify?

Tom Nadelhoffer points to a Reuters news item regarding the Plame civil lawsuit against Cheney et al:

Oh, the Irony

It appears that Dick Cheney and Karl Rove may be forced to testify in the civil suit filed by former CIA operative Valeria Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson (see here). The irony is two-fold: first,the legal precedent Plame’s lawyer is relying on to try to force Cheney and Rove to testify stems, in part, from the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton; [...]

[Link]

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Jul 5th, 2006 by ravi
NSA monitoring and Bayes Theorem

At CounterPunch, Floyd Rudmin (who I hope to quote a lot of, from what I have seen of his writing) provides a great lesson on Bayes Theorem to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of NSA monitoring with regard to identifying terrorists. But I have some comments, which can be found after the quote below.

Floyd Rudmin: the Politics of Paranoia and Intimidation

[...]

The US Census shows that there are about 300 million people living in the USA.

Suppose that there are 1,000 terrorists there as well, which is probably a high estimate. The base-rate would be 1 terrorist per 300,000 people. In percentages, that is .00033% which is way less than 1%. Suppose that NSA surveillance has an accuracy rate of .40, which means that 40% of real terrorists in the USA will be identified by NSA's monitoring of everyone's email and phone calls. This is probably a high estimate, considering that terrorists are doing their best to avoid detection. There is no evidence thus far that NSA has been so successful at finding terrorists. And suppose NSA's misidentification rate is .0001, which means that .01% of innocent people will be misidentified as terrorists, at least until they are investigated, detained and interrogated. Note that .01% of the US population is 30,000 people. With these suppositions, then the probability that people are terrorists given that NSA's system of surveillance identifies them as terrorists is only p=0.0132, which is near zero, very far from one. Ergo, NSA's surveillance system is useless for finding terrorists.

Suppose that NSA's system is more accurate than .40, let's say, .70, which means that 70% of terrorists in the USA will be found by mass monitoring of phone calls and email messages. Then, by Bayes' Theorem, the probability that a person is a terrorist if targeted by NSA is still only p=0.0228, which is near zero, far from one, and useless.

[...]

I believe this is honest and valid reasoning. However it has to be read closely because Rudmin does not use more familiar terms such as 'false postive' and 'false negative'.

He points out that the chance is very low that a person is actually a terrorist if so identified by NSA. The if-then order here is important to note. Another way to say it is to say that (simply because of the extremely low incident rate of terrorists) there will be a lot of false positives. A lot of people who are not terrorists will be wrongly labelled so by the NSA.

What he does not say or imply, but is not clear (at least in my reading, to a layperson) is that given a high accuracy rate (of the NSA test for terrorist) the chance of a false negative is quite low. In other words, the NSA monitoring (if accurate) will not miss a real terrorist. The if-then here is reversed.

IMHO, this is a crucial difference for two reasons:

  1. A high false positive rate, given a low false negative rate, is an acceptable outcome for screening tests. Further tests/filters can be applied to narrow the count and eliminate false positives. The monitoring here serves as a first, coarse, red flag.
  2. To the public (to whom I assume Rudmin is addressing his argument), this is of utmost relevance. Their concern is not so much with being swept up as a false positive (for they are sure they can easily exonerate themselves in further tests), but with making sure that no terrorist gets away unnoticed (false negative).

The public has demonstrated many times over that they are willing to swallow the fear-mongering and sacrifice significant chunks of liberties (especially if they believe it to be those of others) in return for perceived security and toughness. While Rudmin makes a powerful argument in pointing out that the monitoring does a poorer job than the toss of a coin (given his assumptions on accuracy rate, etc), this argument falls on mostly deaf ears.

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Jul 3rd, 2006 by ravi
Bush authorized Cheney leak?

The Raw Story | Report: Bush ordered Cheney to use classified info to discredit Wilson

President Bush told Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he instructed Vice President Cheney to use classified information to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, according to a report in the National Journal.

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Jun 13th, 2006 by ravi
Rove escapes?

NPR : Rove Won't Be Charged in CIA Leak Case
by Linda Wertheimer and Don Gonyea

Morning Edition, June 13, 2006 · Prosecutors have apparently decided not to charge senior White House adviser Karl Rove with any crimes in the CIA leak investigation. Rove's lawyer says his client was advised of the decision Monday.

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May 30th, 2006 by ravi
Bush Tracker Update
  • Forbes: Rep. Lewis (R) Subject of Federal Probe

  • The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles has opened an investigation into House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis and his dealings with a lobbyist with connections to disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
    Corruption
  • NYT: C.I.A. Aide's House and Office Searched

  • Federal agents conducted searches on Friday at the office and home of Kyle Foggo, who stepped down this week as the Central Intelligence Agency's third-ranking official. The searches were part of a widening criminal investigation of possible contracting fraud that has also focused on lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee.
    Corruption
  • InfoClearing: 105 Killed In Afghanistan

  • The Taliban death toll from fighting Wednesday night and Thursday ranged up to 87, U.S. and Afghan officials said. Also, 14 Afghan police officers, one American civilian, a Canadian soldier and an Afghan civilian also were killed in the fighting, officials said.
    AfghanWar
  • InfoClearing: Iraq is Disintegrating

  • Across central Iraq, there is an exodus of people fleeing for their lives as sectarian assassins and death squads hunt them down. At ground level, Iraq is disintegrating as ethnic cleansing takes hold on a massive scale.
    Iraq
  • BBC: US 'must end secret detentions'

  • The US should close any secret "war on terror" detention facilities abroad and the Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba, a United Nations report has said.
    Guantanamo
  • TP: Hastert hearts Abramoff too

  • Dennis Hastert, is under investigation by the FBI, which is seeking to determine his role in an ongoing public corruption probe into members of Congress, ABC News has learned from high level official sources.
    Abramoff
    Corruption
  • Marines massacre in Haditha

  • A group of enraged Marines entered homes in the Iraqi town of Haditha and murdered their occupants, including children, in cold blood. And it's not an isolated incident.
    Iraq
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    May 11th, 2006 by ravi
    Bush Tracker Update
  • NYT: 10 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

  • Ten American soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed Friday in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, the United States military said Saturday.
    AfghanWar  
  • NYT: Ney(R) aide with Abramoff ties pleads guilty

  • A former top aide to Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring with the lobbyist Jack Abramoff to corrupt public officials and said gifts had been "corruptly offered to and accepted by" Mr. Ney.
    Corruption  
  • BBC: 1000+ people died in Baghdad in April

  • Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has called on Iraqis to help stop sectarian violence after figures showed it killed 1,091 people in Baghdad last month.
    Iraq  
  • NYT: HUD Secretary rejection of Bush critic

  • The administration's housing secretary sought to head off a furor today over his recent account of scuttling a government contract because the person who was about to get it was critical of President Bush.
    Cronyism  
    Corruption  
  • AP: Coin Dealer Asks to Change Pleas

  • A major GOP fundraiser accused in a state rare-coin investment scandal is asking to change his not guilty pleas on federal charges that he illegally funneled donations to President Bush's re-election campaign.
    Corruption  
  • ABC: Bush on NSA "Data Collection"

  • President Bush did not confirm or deny a newspaper report Thursday that the National Security Agency was collecting records of tens of millions of ordinary Americans' phone calls.
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    May 9th, 2006 by ravi
    Bush Tracker Update
  • Guardian: Video shows Bush warned about Katrina

  • The US president, George Bush, was warned before Hurricane Katrina struck that it could cause huge devastation, according to leaked video footage.
    Katrina
  • MSNBC: Ex Govt Insider Natsios on Iraq reconstruction

  • Natsios publicly gave vent to his long-suppressed frustrations over the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq occupation. … [H]e harshly criticized the Coalition Provisional Authority led by L. Paul Bremer III for botching the reconstruction effort and allowing ill-qualified or corrupt contractors to dominate it.
    Corruption
    Iraq
    Cronyism
  • NYT: More on Iraq detainee torture by Army

  • In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball.
    Iraq
    Torture
  • ABC: Abramoff gets almost 6 years

  • Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison in a Florida fraud case, the minimum sentence allowed.
    Corruption
    Abramoff
  • BBC: Afghan fighting leaves 34 dead

  • US-led coalition forces say they have killed 32 "enemy fighters", assumed to be the Taleban and their allies in clashes in southern Helmand province.
    AfghanWar
  • SFGate: DeLay aide Tony Rudy flips

  • A former top aide to Rep. Tom DeLay has agreed to plead guilty to charges in the widening federal investigation of lobbyist fraud, a law enforcement official said Friday.
    Corruption
  • NYT: DeLay calls it quits from politics

  • Representative Tom DeLay, the relentless Texas conservative who helped lead House Republicans to power but became ensnared in a corruption scandal, said today that he had decided to leave Congress and relocate to Virginia, a move that could clear the way for a special election to replace him.
    Corruption
  • NYT: US report is bleak on Iraq status

  • An internal staff report by the United States Embassy and the military command in Baghdad provides a sobering province-by-province snapshot of Iraq's political, economic and security situation, rating the overall stability of 6 of the 18 provinces "serious" and one "critical."
    Iraq
  • AlterNet: Another Bush Iraq memo

  • The Manning memo uncovers even more evidence that the president knew his case for invading Iraq was based on bogus intelligence.
    Propaganda
    Iraq
  • Nation: Italy leaves US coalition

  • The Italian withdrawal will be the latest blow to the administration spin that suggests the occupation is a multinational initiative. A score of countries have withdrawn their troops or are in the process of doing so. Many of the exits were hastened by elections that — as in Italy this week — saw voters chose political leaders and parties that promised to quit the coalition.
    Iraq
  • Salon: What Rumsfeld knew

  • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was personally involved in the late 2002 interrogation of a high-value al-Qaida detainee known in intelligence circles as "the 20th hijacker." He also communicated weekly with the man in charge of the interrogation, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the controversial commander of the Guantánamo Bay detention center.
    Torture
    Guantanamo
  • NYT: Inquiry says CIA flew 1000 torture flights

  • Investigators for the European Parliament said Wednesday that data gathered from air safety regulators and others found that the Central Intelligence Agency had flown 1,000 undeclared flights over European territory since 2001. Sometimes the planes stopped to pick up terrorism suspects who had been kidnapped to take them to countries that use torture, the investigators added.
    Torture
    Guantanamo
  • NYT: NO Evacuees housing grants will end soon

  • Thousands of hurricane evacuees who counted on a year of free housing and utilities are being told by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that they are no longer eligible for such help and must either pay the rent themselves or leave.
    Katrina
  • NYT: Still battering the Katrina homeless

  • The federal government's disastrous handling of the Katrina housing crisis is looking more and more like an attempt to force displaced families into the streets. The latest chapter came when the Federal Emergency Management Agency informed many families who had expected to have their rent paid for a year that they would soon be forced to assume their own housing costs or to leave their homes and apartments.
    Katrina
  • AlterNet: Potential evidence of Illegal Spying

  • The federal government's disastrous handling of the Katrina housing crisis is looking more and more like an attempt to force displaced families into the streets. The latest chapter came when the Federal Emergency Management Agency informed many families who had expected to have their rent paid for a year that they would soon be forced to assume their own housing costs or to leave their homes and apartments.
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