Sunday, June 08, 2014

PNN 6-8-14 - The Jazz Kings

PNN - 6/8/14
JAZZ KNIGHTS

RWS               7:01pm 


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1. Another Reason to Rein in Big Banks: Student Loan Shenanigans
High interest rates and more than $1.2 trillion of student loan debt are not the only challenges facing the 40 million Americans with student loans. Student borrowers face intense hardships caused by the deceptive practices of loan providers and servicers, and those problems came under the scrutiny Wednesday of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protections.
Currently, student borrowers are automatically assigned to one of more than 50 loan providers or servicers, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citibank. Because the federal contracts with these providers are up for renewal this summer, the Senate is investigating the scope and implications of the more than 2,300 complaints of loan providers and servicers compiled by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The grievances include crucial information not being available, changes in loan terms without consent and without apparent reason, and blatant lying by loan providers and servicers.
In his opening statements, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he was concerned that “student loan servicers care more about maximizing profits than customer service.”

These companies’ actions prove his point.
Robert Geremia, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., still has outstanding student loans several years out of college. He said that he never received enough information about the long-term consequences of his loan before he signed for it. Because of this, he will pay over $10,000 in interest and fees.

There are no industry standards that dictate how much information these companies must provide to the borrower. Nor is there an agency solely dedicated to regulating these loan providers and servicers. Although the CFPB recently vowed to supervise the actions of the seven largest student loan providers and servicers, including Sallie Mae and Nelnet, most student loan companies are left unregulated. As a result, many student borrowers are wrongfully charged fees or left in default because of loan provider and servicer actions.

Even if student borrowers realize that something is amiss with their loan or loan provider, they have nowhere to turn and no one to advocate for them. Nancy Hoover, Director of Financial Aid at Denison University, said that graduates are increasingly seeking the help of their alma mater’s financial aid office, a department typically ill-equipped to handle their cases.
While the entire panel agreed that the degree of outstanding student loan debt is a detriment to the economy, Lindsey Burke of the conservative Heritage Foundation offered suggestions that would only compound the problem, including reducing the amount of federal Pell Grants available to students. When asked by Sen. Brown if she believed the loan provider and servicer industry should be regulated, she simply responded “no.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other Democrats disagree. Since last summer, Sen. Warren has been leading the charge on student loan reform. During the hearing she passionately reaffirmed her position that loan providers and servicers “must follow the law and not take advantage of people.”
Sometime this week, Senate Democrats are expected to propose a bill that would allow student borrowers to refinance their loans to lower, fixed interest rates. This would certainly help student borrowers, but it will not completely ameliorate the serious burdens that they face. Loan providers and servicers must be held accountable when they trick, cheat, lie or withhold information, or else their deceitful tactics will continue, and students will pay the price.

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2. Judge: NSA can keep deleting data it was ordered to retain

A federal judge in California withdrew a temporary order requiring the National Security Agency to retain the data it collects under a controversial and little understood section of the FISA Amendments Act after the NSA argued that being forced to hold onto the data would both be illegal and overwhelm its computer systems, rendering the United States and its allies vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
The decision, by District Court Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland, came as part of a long-running lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of AT&T customers who allege that their communications have been intercepted in bulk by the NSA, violating the First and Fourth amendments.
White’s Friday decision came at an emergency hearing called by the judge after EFF attorney Cindy Cohn said that recent emails she had exchanged with the government’s lawyer indicated that the government was discarding surveillance data it collects under Section 720 of the FISA Amendments Act, which Cohn argued was in violation of an order White made in March ordering the NSA to retain it.
At the heart of the dispute between the EFF and the government are two legal authorities central to the kind of NSA surveillance exposed in detail by former contractor Edward Snowden.
Unlike information the NSA collects under Section 215 of the FISA Amendments Act, which is commonly understood as the authority by which the NSA gathers US telephone “metadata” in bulk from major communications companies, Section 702 provides the attorney general and director of national intelligence authority to target non-Americans and access the content of their communications - everything from their Facebook messages to their web browsing history. Some US lawmakers have said that the NSA uses Section 702 as a “back door” to spy, without a warrant, on Americans’ communications that might be somehow connected to a foreign “target.”

Retaining data collected under Section 702, which is routinely deleted by hand or by computer programs in accordance with “minimization procedures,” could overwhelm the NSA’s computers, its lawyers and staff claimed in court filings on Friday before White made his decision.

“Any attempt at an immediate solution would unleash a series of consequences that the U.S. government cannot predict,” NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett said in a written declaration, claiming that White’s order to retain all information collected under Section 702 would be not only technically impossible but also illegal because it would violate minimization procedures. Those procedures are approved by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, though the individual orders tasking the NSA to spy on foreign targets are not.
According to Ledgett, the NSA maintains Section 215 telephone metadata on “a discrete computer systems architecture,” while Section 720 data resides “within multiple databases contained on multiple systems … constructed over many years at a considerable cost.” One consequence, tweeted the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez, is that such an arrangement could make oversight and security more difficult.

At any rate, Ledgett argued, making the technical changes that would satisfy White’s order would normally take months of planning, and implementing them immediately could require suspending all foreign spying under Section 720, which he called the NSA’s “most significant tool” for disrupting terrorist attacks.
“Processing of communications indicating a potential attack could be delayed to the point where the attack has already occurred before the communication can be identified, analyzed, and disseminated,” he said. “As a result, analysts will be prevented from accessing needed data placing national security at risk.”
According to EFF lawyers, White withdrew his temporary order requiring the NSA to retain Section 702 data but will allow the two sides to argue the issue before making a final decision. But for now, at least, the NSA’s spying has been deemed too big to fail.


3. Louisiana Gov. signs bill killing lawsuits against oil and gas companies

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has flouted the advice of his own attorney general and scores of legal scholars by signing a bill which blocks a levee board’s lawsuit against oil and gas companies, who are accused of destroying the state’s coast.

"This bill will help stop frivolous lawsuits and create a more fair and predictable legal environment, and I am proud to sign it into law," Jindal said in a written statement Friday.

The law, SB 469, has thwarted a levee district in New Orleans’ East Bank – the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) – from pushing forward with a lawsuit introduced last July against 97 oil and gas companies for damage done to the state’s wetlands. According to the suit, the firms exposed New Orleans to catastrophic damage from hurricanes Rita and Katrina by dredging and cutting thousands of miles of pipes and canals through barrier islands and wetlands which, left intact, would have protected the coastal city, The Times-Picayune Newspaper reports.

“We are looking to the industry to fix the part of the problem that they created,” SLFPA-E vice president John Barry told the tri-weekly last year. “We’re not asking them to fix everything. We only want them to address the part of the problem that they created.”
Local republicans and energy heavyweights, however, viewed the lawsuit as frivolous and “illegal.”

"This bill keeps a rogue agency from misrepresenting this State and trying to raise money through illegal actions," said Senators Robert Adley and Bret Allain, who sponsored the legislation Jindal approved this week.
Adley, who has owned Pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and has been the recipient of an estimated $597,950 in campaign contributions from companies, political action committees and individuals affiliated with, or controlled by, oil and gas interests, was incredulous at claims the industry had harmed the state.

"I think it's absurd to say that the oil and gas industry has damaged the coast," Republican Adley said. "They did what they were told to do, and a lot of what they have done has helped us, not hurt us."

Jindal himself is no stranger to oil and gas money, having received at least $545,000 in industry contributions “and most probably more,” according to the Louisiana Voice. Last year, environmental groups claimed that figure was nearly twice as high, saying oil and gas companies had donated $1,019,777 to his campaigns between 2003 and 2013.

Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, called the move a “huge victory for the oil and gas industry,” according to a statement released by the governor’s office.

Louisiana in deep waters

The victory for the oil and gas industry could be much more far-reaching in the years ahead. Critics fear the slipshod language in SB 469 will not only kill the flood authority’s lawsuit, but potentially scuttle other attempts to litigate against the energy industry.

Topping that list are government claims against BP, whose Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 people and spilling 210 million gallons of oil in the worst marine oil spill in history.
On Tuesday, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell wrote Jindal imploring him to veto the measure, saying the “very broad and all-encompassing language” of the bill “may have other potential serious unintended consequences."

“No one can currently quantify or identify all of the causes of action which will be swept away if this bill becomes law,” the letter warns.
“In the coming years perhaps the proponents of the bill can tailor legislation more narrowly drawn which does not portend such a broad and vague attack on the abilities of the State, and most importantly, local governmental entities to protect their citizens.”

Seventy-nine law school professors also warned bill could interfere with state and local government claims against BP.
A seven-page legal assessment of the legislation cautioning Jindal not to sign SB 469 because it could have “adverse consequences” was compiled by Loyola Law School Robert Verchick and received the endorsement of legal scholars from California to Maryland, The Times (Shreveport) reported.
Steve Murchie, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, said: “This legislation is governance at its worst: poorly written, for the worst of reasons, with no public benefit, and having potentially staggering unintended consequences. Governor Jindal, in his zeal to please the oil and gas industry and further his political ambitions, has abandoned the hundreds of thousands of Louisianans facing another hurricane season with inadequate storm protection and a disappearing coast.”

But Jindal’s executive counsel, Thomas Enright, said their arguments did not hold water.

“We are satisfied that the concerns expressed by your office are the same as those offered by the opponents of the bill during the session and that those concerns were properly considered and publicly debated at length,” he said.



4. Facebook Caves to Pakistani Government Censorship of Left-Wing Websites

LONDON — Facebook said on Friday that it had blocked users in Pakistan from access to the pages of a popular Pakistani rock band and several left-wing political pages, drawing sharp criticism from free-speech activists who accused the American company of caving in to government censors.
Members of the band, Laal, whose members have frequently spoken out against the Taliban, confirmed that their Facebook page, which had over 400,000 “likes,” had been blocked.
Following an outcry on social media and inquiries by reporters to the Pakistani government and to Facebook, the government reversed itself and Facebook restored access to Laal’s page.
But advocates said late on Friday that at least six other Facebook pages that promoted progressive debate in Pakistan and that had been blocked during the week remained inaccessible.

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“Facebook claims to be in favor of free speech, and talks about protecting political expression, but they are not,” said Shahzad Ahmad of the group Bytes for All Pakistan, which campaigns for Internet freedom and has gone to court several times seeking to lift government restrictions in Pakistan."For the sake of their own profits and business, they are caving in to anything the government demands.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook in London said the company’s policy was to adhere to local laws, and that it blocked the pages after receiving an official request from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, which regulates Internet content in Pakistan.

“While we never remove this type of content from the site entirely, like most Internet services, we may restrict people from accessing it in the countries where it is determined to be illegal,” the spokeswoman said, adding that questions about why specific pages were blocked were “best addressed to the authorities who issue these orders.”

The spokeswoman declined to be named, citing company policy.
Facebook was banned entirely in Pakistan for several months in 2010, during a controversy over a page that encouraged people to draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The company says it regularly weeds out pages that promote hate or extremism. According to a report published on its website, Facebook restricted access to 162 pieces of content in Pakistan between July and December 2013, and many more in some other countries, including India, where it restricted access to more than 4,700 pages in the same period.
But activists said on Friday that the latest blocks in Pakistan affected pages that spoke out against extremism, while several extremist pages in the country were left untouched.

“This is ridiculous,” said Taimur Rahman, the lead singer of Laal, speaking before the ban on his group’s page was lifted. “None of our content could be construed as anti-state or anti-religious, in any shape or form.”

The Facebook actions come at a time when freedom of speech is under increasing pressure in Pakistan. Extremists have been bringing criminal accusations of blasphemy against journalists, and the army has been cracking down on criticism of itself in the media. The government media regulator suspended broadcasts of the country’s most popular news channel, Geo News, on Friday and fined it $104,000, on accusations that Geo News had defamed the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.

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Ale Natiq, 31, the administrator of the Urdu-language page Roshni Pakistan, speculated that the military was behind the blocking of the page this week. “We’re not anti-state or anti-religion,” Mr. Natiq said. “But we’ve been very vocal on the Baluchistan issue, which is sensitive to the military, so that might have done it.”
Several activists questioned why Facebook had not blocked other Pakistani pages that incite sectarian violence, religious extremism or hatred against minorities. As examples, they pointed to pages administrated by supporters of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a notorious sectarian groups that has supported attacks on Shiites; the sectarian militant group Lashkar e Jhangvi;and the Red Mosque, where a violent stand-off between extremists and government forces in 2007 left over 100 people dead, and where a recently opened library is named for Osama bin Laden.
“These pro-Taliban pages are spewing hatred, and we are the people they shut down,” said Mr. Rahman, the singer. “It’s insanity.”
Facebook officials say that they resist censorship as much as possible, but their leverage is limited in countries like Pakistan where the government imposes constraints with little public debate.


5. Wikipedia Founder: UK Needs US-Style First Amendment Law to Protect Whistleblowers

Wikipedia founder calls for new free speech laws at conference marking first anniversary of publication of Snowden files

Britain should introduce its own constitution with an enshrined right to freedom of speech similar to that of the US to ensure that whistleblowers can come forward, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said.

He said that doing so would help prevent governments from cracking down on media organisations that wanted to publish potentially damaging stories.
"One of the big differences between the US and the UK is the first amendment, so the idea of smashing computers in the basement of the New York Times is basically inconceivable," he said, referring to the British government's demand that the Guardian destroy hard-drives used to store Edward Snowden's secret files.
"One of the important things about the US is that something like the first amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights is very difficult to change – whereas here, it's not so easy to construct something that's difficult to change. Parliament can ultimately change anything with a majority vote and that's that."
Wales was speaking to the Guardian on Saturday at a London summit marking the anniversary of the start of Snowden's revelations, which were first published in the Guardian and the Washington Post.

Saturday's day of action was billed as the biggest privacy event of 2014, with more than 500 people attending in east London.

The Wikipedia founder's call for a "British first amendment" echoed that of the Guardian's editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, who was ordered to destroy the hard-drives by the government under threat of legal action.

Rusbridger said no right to free speech is enshrined in British law and said that he felt a "sense of foreboding, that something bad would happen" in the UK in reaction to the Guardian publishing Snowden's material.

He said he had no such concerns about the US government because of the protections afforded by that nation's constitution.

"By forcing the reporting out of the UK to the US, the British government lost any handle on this story at all. So, I hope the British government will think about that in the future," he said.
Wales, Rusbridger and a host of other speakers addressed a packed Shoreditch Town Hall on Saturday on the subject of privacy in the wake of Snowden's revelations of industrial-scale spying by the UK and US governments.

The event has been organised by the Guardian and the Don't Spy on Us Campaign, a coalition of privacy, free expression and digital rights organisations which is urging the UK government to end the mass surveillance of the web and mobile phone networks by the British eavesdropping centre, GCHQ.

The day started with a video address from performer Stephen Fry, who called the government's actions in spying on its own citizens "squalid and rancid".
In a prerecorded address, he said: "The idea of having your letters read by somebody, your telegrams, your faxes, your postcards intercepted, was always considered one of the meanest, most beastly things a human being could do, and for a government to do, without good cause.

"Using the fear of terrorism that we all have, the fear of the unknown that we all share, the fear of enemies that hate us, is a duplicitous and deeply wrong means of excusing something as base as spying on the citizens of your own country," he said.

Fry added: "It's enough that corporations know so much about us and our spending habits, our eating habits, our sexual preferences, everything else.
"But that a government, something that we elect, something that should be looking out for our best interests, should presume without asking to take information that we swap, we hope privately, between ourselves is frankly disgraceful."


6. And So the Sale of Our Democracy Rolls On
Lost in all the noise -- and all the towering bad taste -- of the coverage of the Bowe Bergdahl story this week was the fact that the Senate began the long and laborious and (I suspect) utterly futile work of crafting a constitutional amendment to try and repair the damage done to democracy by the efforts of the current Supreme Court, in its Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings, to legalize influence peddling and to privatize general political corruption. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico -- whose uncle I strove mightily to put in the White House almost 40 years ago -- brought a proposed constitutional amendment before the Senate Judiciary Committee that would reverse those decisions, and try to stem the flood of corporate and private -- and largely unaccountable -- money that promises to swell even further over the next several election cycles. 

As Amy Howe of ScotusBlog reported:
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) opened the hearing by describing the goal of the proposed amendment: "to repair the damage done by a series of flawed Supreme Court decisions that overturned longstanding precedent and eviscerated campaign finance laws." Leahy emphasized recent rulings in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, holding that the government may not prohibit corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections, and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, striking down aggregate limits on campaign contributions. In his view, the Court has "opened the floodgates to billionaires who are pouring vast amounts of unfettered and undisclosed dollars into political campaigns across the country." Leahy emphasized that he had "long been wary of attempts to change the Constitution because I have seen" such proposals "used, like bumper stickers, merely to score political points." But in his view, an amendment is necessary here because the Court's decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon were "based . . . on a flawed interpretation of the First Amendment."

Howe states quite correctly that this proposal does not stand a snowball's chance of ever becoming an actual constitutional amendment, but Udall's effort at least clarified the positions of both sides.

Leahy was followed by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Committee's ranking Republican member. Leahy had previewed some of the key themes that other supporters of the amendment would echo in the hearing, and Grassley did the same for Republicans. He contended that, "today, freedom of speech is threatened as it has not been in many decades," and he observed that the proposed amendment would be the very first amendment in history to the Bill of Rights. Grassley warned of the amendment's potentially broad sweep, cautioning that it could, for example, allow Congress to eliminate campaign contributions altogether. "It's outrageous," he concluded, "to say that limiting speech is necessary for democracy."

(I would also argue to Senator Grassley that the Reconstruction amendments certainly were "amendments" to the Bill of Rights in that they ordered to states to abide by the original provisions of the Bill of Rights.)

And that is where the Supreme Court has left us. A debate over the preposterous notion that money is speech, and that more money means more speech, and this in a world in which the same court found reason to gut the Voting Rights Act so that it would be hobbled in the new era of big-money campaigning that the Court inaugurated in its other two decisions. 

The real joker in the deck is that the decisions -- and Citizens United, in particular -- are written so tightly that any legislative action to reverse them short of a constitutional amendment likely will fail. (And forget about state action. A century-old Montana law banning corporate contributions to political campaign was overturned by this same Supreme Court, which used Citizens United as a precedent for doing so.) However, this isn't the first time that Congress, and citizens, have attempted to propose a constitutional amendment to deal with the consequences of a Supreme Court decision in the field of campaign finance.

As Richard Bernstein recounts in Amending America, his study of the amendment process throughout American political history, in 1980, a group of Washington wise men put together something called the Committee On The Constitutional System, which proposed to update the work of the Founders and to "...identify the outmoded features"of the Constitution "separating them from the good and durable parts of the system." The CCS proposed a series of new amendments, including one that, as Bernstein puts it, would "amend the First Amendment to provide Congress authority to set campaign spending limits (overturning the Supreme Court's 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo). 

Granted, the CCS largely was nothing more than a high-class thought experiment, but its proposed campaign-finance amendment tracks Udall's proposed amendment almost exactly and, like Udall's, it addresses a Supreme Court decision that guaranteed more money sluicing through the system.
The Valeo decision, of course, was the first crack in the dam. In 1971, Congress passed the Federal Elections Campaign Act, which it then amended three years later in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, which had been financed by a slush fund of unaccountable campaign money. The law limited contributions by individuals and groups, and candidates themselves, as well as providing for a system to inaugurate the public financing of campaigns. It was challenged by a number of people, including then-Senator James Buckley of New York and former senator Eugene McCarthy. In an unsigned per curiam decision, the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the law in a muddled decision in which five Justices, including Chief Justice Warren Burger, dissented in part from the majority's opinion, but most of the dissents argued that the Court did not go far enough in respecting the role of campaign contributions as political speech. (This was the bug in the ear of Burger, who wrote that "contributions and expenditures are two sides of the same First Amendment coin.") The taproot of our present Citizens United-McCutcheon system can be traced back to Burger and his First Amendment coin. Reading the decision, philosopher John Rawls was particularly prescient. Rawls argued that the decision "runs the risk of endorsing the view that fair representation is representation according to the amount of influence effectively exerted."

So the current Court has struck down decades of precedent in the field of campaign finance, and it also has arranged things that the only real remedy is one that is impossible to achieve. The consequences of 40 years of trying to clean up the rot with which big money infects the structure of democracy has been a series of legal decisions that sanctified the rot with the most profound blessing the Constitution can provide. The consequences of those decisions have been entirely foreseeable. If Udall's Sisyphean effort does nothing more than draw all our attention to those simple facts, it will be quite worth the trouble.

7. Why Was the FBI Investigating Michael Hastings' Reporting on Bergdahl?
By Alice Speri, VICE Magazine

Three years into the disappearance of Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan, Michael Hastings — the journalist whose reporting cost General Stanley McChrystal his job — wrote a Rolling Stone story on the missing soldier, a piece which the magazine called “the definitive first account of Bowe Bergdahl.”
Hastings, who died in a car accident in Los Angeles in June 2013, had unparalleled access for that story.

He spoke to Bergdahl’s parents, who had by that time stopped talking to the press, following “subtle pressure” from the army, and he quoted from emails the young soldier had sent to them, documenting his growing disillusion with the war and the US military.

Hastings also spoke to several unnamed men in Bergdahl’s unit — soldiers who, we now know, had to sign a strict nondisclosure agreement forbidding them from discussing the soldier’s disappearance and search with anyone — let alone one of the top investigative journalists in the country.

But most controversially, Hastings’ piece revealed what has been the subject of much debate and vitriol over the last few days: That a disillusioned Bergdahl had actually abandoned his post and “walked away.”

At the time of the story’s publication, the media had all but forgotten about Bergdahl — who was released on Saturday after five years in the hands of the Taliban, in exchange for five Guantanamo prisoners. And, with the exception of some initial chatter, Hastings’ piece, which paints a deeply unflattering picture of Bergdahl’s unit and its leadership, hardly had the impact of some of his other investigations.

But someone did pay attention to it: the FBI.
That, at least, is what was revealed in a heavily redacted document released by the agency following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request — filed on the day of Hastings’ death — by investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, an MIT doctoral student whom the Justice Department once called the “most prolific” requester of FOIA documents.

The document, partially un-redacted after Leopold and Shapiro engaged in a lengthy legal battle with the FBI for failing to fulfill its FOIA obligations, singles out Hastings’ Rolling Stone piece — “America’s Last Prisoner of War” — as “controversial reporting.” It names Hastings and Matthew Farwell, a former soldier in Afghanistan and a contributing reporter to Hastings’ piece.

The document also included an Associated Press report based on the Rolling Stone piece, and what it identifies as a “blog entry” penned by Gary Farwell, Matthew’s father — which actually appears to be a comment entry on the Idaho Statesman’s website.

“The article reveals private email excerpts, from [redacted] to his parents. The excerpts include quotes about being ‘ashamed to even be American,’ and threats that, ‘If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan,’” the FBI file reads. “The Rolling Stone article ignited a media frenzy, speculating about the circumstances of [redacted] capture, and whether US resources and effort should continue to be expended for his recovery.”

The FBI file — as well as a Department of Justice document released in response to Leopold and Shapiro’s lawsuit — suggests that Hastings and Farwell’s reporting got swept up into an “international terrorist investigation” into Bergdahl’s disappearance.

A spokesperson for the FBI told VICE News that the agency does not normally comment on pending investigations and that it lets FOIA documents “speak for themselves.” The investigation was still pending as of last month, Leopold said.
According to the files — and a rare public statement by the FBI following Hastings’ death — Hastings was never directly under investigation by the agency, despite having pissed off a lot of people in very high places.
But it is not exactly clear why Hastings and Farwell’s “controversial” reporting made it into a criminal investigation that was already active before they even wrote the Rolling Stone story.
“Michael and Matt both worked really, really hard on that story, and I know for a fact that they did it in a way that completely angered the US military and the US government, and while other reporters were steering away from it, they were totally on it,” Leopold told VICE News. “The FBI was investigating this, whether they were investigating Michael or investigating the story, and there was a lot of fear around it, because they characterized the story as ‘controversial’ — whatever that means.”
“Then the question became, why was the FBI looking at this, what were they looking at?” Leopold added. “The FBI says Hastings was not a target of their investigation but his reporting was. How do you investigate someone's reporting without investigating them?"
Farwell declined to discuss the details of the file, but told VICE News, “I’m happy the FBI is reading Rolling Stone on the job.”
He had not known that his name, and his father's, showed up in the FBI's files until Leopold pointed it out to him. Leopold told VICE News: "When I showed Matt these files he was like, oh my god, this is basically outlining my conversations."

Farwell said: “When it first came out it was just Michael, and Jason was like, ‘Hey dude, this has your dad in it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh shit, they're talking about me in these redactions, that's weird.’ Anyway, I signed a privacy waiver and sent it out to Jason."

Entire paragraphs in the FBI documents remain redacted — leaving many questions about the scope of the investigation into the journalists’ work. But the un-redacted sections about Farwell characterize him as a 10th Mountain infantryman, who helped broker a meeting between Hastings and — presumably — some of the sources for the Rolling Stone story.

In his comment on the Idaho Statesman's site, also picked up in the FBI file, Farwell Senior comes to Bergdahl's defense after the Rolling Stone article sparked backlash against the soldier, of a similar sort that we are seeing today. He also credits his son for brokering Hastings’ meeting with the Bergdahls.
“I’m going to excuse that young kid for his choice of words, but I’m not going to excuse the leadership of his outfit, nor the misguided policies of our government in Afghanistan and elsewhere which have put our young people in harms way without a clear vision of what they are doing,” Farwell, himself a retired Air Force officer, wrote then. “It’s my hope this Rolling Stone article helps the Bergdahl’s get their son back and helps expose some misguided policies and conduct far above the pay grade of this young disillusioned soldier.”
Now that Bergdahl is free, the lid on Pandora’s box has been lifted.

“For five years, soldiers have been forced to stay silent about the disappearance and search for Bergdahl. Now we can talk about what really happened,” Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served in Bergdahl’s battalion, wrote in the Daily Beast on Monday. “I served in the same battalion in Afghanistan and participated in the attempts to retrieve him throughout the summer of 2009. After we redeployed, every member of my brigade combat team received an order that we were not allowed to discuss what happened to Bergdahl for fear of endangering him. He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth.”

"Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down," Bethea stated.

Soldiers forced to silence for years have now taken their accounts — and anger — about the missing soldier’s ordeal to social media and the press. Republican strategists eager to turn Bergdahl into the next Benghazi have also jumped on the opportunity to offer critics of the young “deserter” up for interviews, as the New York Times noted today.

In the last few days, Bergdahl has been blamed with the deaths of “every American soldier killed in Paktika Province in the four-month period that followed his disappearance,” according to the Times — charges that the Pentagon dismissed as unsubstantiated. Today it was reported that the army will launch an inquiry into the circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance and his personal conduct.

"The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity," General Martin E. Dempsey said in a Facebook post today. "As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred."
A US Army investigation into Bergdahl's own conduct might appease or inflame his critics. But even before Bergdahl’s release, “the dam was getting ready to burst,” Farwell said.

“That was one of the weirdest things about the case, that everyone in the whole brigade was required to sign a pretty strict nondisclosure agreement that was enforced at a pretty high level, so basically if any of the people from that unit talked about Bowe, they thought they could be losing their careers,” Farwell said. "It was a blanket statement, ‘you will not talk about anything about this.'”

And while there is no suggestion — in the un-redacted bits of the FBI file on Hastings — that the agency was after any soldier who had taken his frustrations to the press, the fact that the FBI was looking into the reporters’ sources and methods raises at least the question.
Now, everyone wants to talk about it. But Hastings’ ever “controversial” reporting got to it first.


8. 'We Are Resetting the Net to Shut Off Mass Surveillance'
Online day of action marks one year since Snowden reporting began and calls for people to "take their privacy back" from prying eyes
To mark the one-year anniversary of the first reporting based on information revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden on June 5, 2013, privacy advocates, organizations, and technology companies all over the world on Thursday are participating in 'Reset The Net'—an online day of action in which participants pledge to take real steps to protect online freedoms and fight back against mass surveillance.

"We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance." —Edward Snowden

"Don't ask for your privacy," sounds the call issued by the campaign. "Take it back."

Coordinated by a broad coalition of policy organizations and activist groups, and initiated by Fight For the Future, 'Reset The Net' calls on websites, app developers, organizations, and individual internet users to promote what they call "privacy packs" so that people everywhere can have better access to online privacy and encryption tools.

On Wednesday, as a way to show its support for the day, internet giant Google announced new end-to-end encryption methods for its widely used Gmail service.

Websites, tech companies, and advocacy organizations of all stripes—including Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Common Dreams and scores of others—have all signed on and pledged to improve their privacy protections for their members and users.

As just one example, Josh Levy, of media reform group Free Press, described what actions his group is taking in a blog post on Wednesday:

We’ve removed every third-party tracker from our websites. The standard Facebook and Twitter buttons that you find across the Web — the ones those companies use to track your surfing behavior whether or not you’re actually logged in to their services — are gone. In their place are buttons that let you preserve your privacy while you share our stuff.

In that same spirit we’ve removed Google Analytics from our site. While the service is helpful in telling us where our Web traffic comes from, it tracks your every move after you leave our properties. We find that behavior too intrusive. We’re now using Piwik, the free and open-source Web analytics software that respects the privacy of Internet users.

And Snowden himself released the following statement in support of the day and its mission:

One year ago, we learned that the internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives — no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be.

Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same. That’s why I’m asking you to join me on June 5th for Reset the Net, when people and companies all over the world will come together to implement the technological solutions that can put an end to the mass surveillance programs of any government. This is the beginning of a moment where we the people begin to protect our universal human rights with the laws of nature rather than the laws of nations.

We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance. That’s why I am excited for Reset the Net — it will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale.

Join us on June 5th, and don’t ask for your privacy. Take it back

Yesterday was unbelievable. Together, we as everyday Internet users harnessed the power of the largest websites on earth and launched the biggest effort in human history to shut down mass surveillance on the web.

So how did we do it? Check out this infographic. We promise you will end up reading the whole thing and then feeling awesome.


There’s so much more to tell. We’re still tallying up the numbers and collecting all the amazing stories of how the Internet came together to defend itself.

And, we’re making the biggest announcement of all. Reset the Net was not just a single day of action. We’re going to continue this campaign as a longterm, concerted effort to directly  block dragnet government surveillance from as much of the Internet as we can.

Each month we’ll be announcing a new wave of participants who are helping Reset the Net, and escalating our demands on the largest tech companies to ensure that they’re taking the most meaningful and concrete steps they possibly can to protect our privacy.






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