PNN - 10/5/14
Money Mortgages and Medicine
Lynn Petrovich - Student Debt
Jan Douma - Mortgages and Credit
Athene Ford - Florida Chain
0. ONLY to CORRECT - HISTORY'S NOTORIOUS LIBERAL BIAS too correct, and blame america first mentality
After a heated meeting on Thursday, and in a move billed as a compromise, the conservative school board in the suburban Denver district approved the formation of a panel to review all district curricula, instead of just the history course, and said it would include student perspectives.-
hmmm reviewing all curricula for it's suspected LIBERAL BIAS - (Especially Science) ooh and HISTORY…gosh!
1. FLORIDA FORECLOSURE FAST-TRACK
Florida Circuit Court Judge Diana Lewis was in a hurry. She had 93 foreclosure cases before her in the next two hours and she made it clear that she wasn’t going to let anything slow them down.
“This is a 2009 case. You’ve had years to negotiate,” she told one lawyer trying to delay a foreclosure judgment because his client and the lender were working out a deal.
Later, she agreed to an extension on a foreclosure sale but admonished the defense lawyer. “I’ll give you 30 days. That’s it. Don’t come back. I don’t want to see your face back here.”
At least twice that morning at the Palm Beach County Courthouse she refused to delay foreclosure trials in cases where the banks and homeowners together requested extra time.
Lewis’ manner may be brusque, but her actions aren’t unusual among foreclosure judges in Florida, who in the last year have been working under explicit directions from the state Legislature and Supreme Court to get rid of old cases and clear the court dockets, largely by awarding tens of thousands of homes to banks.
“The state’s entire court system has been compromised,” says Matt Weidner, an outspoken foreclosure defense lawyer who practices in Tampa and St. Petersburg and blogs about the system. “They’re stripping away private property rights and transferring billions of dollars in assets from individuals to large entities.”
A year into its latest effort to clear the wreckage left from the housing crash and subsequent recession that left hundreds of thousands of Floridians facing foreclosure, the state’s so-called foreclosure initiative is laser-focused on clearing the court system of cases and cutting the time it takes a bank to foreclose.
What began as an effort by the Florida Legislature and judicial leaders to help the state’s economy by moving properties out of foreclosure and back into the market has turned into a Kafkaesque nightmare for people struggling to hang on to their homes.
State legislative and judicial leaders have largely ignored the ramifications of throwing thousands of families out of houses and turning the foreclosed properties over to banks and mortgage servicers to maintain and sell into an already swamped market.
“They dealt with it as a court system problem,” said Mike Fasano, a former Republican lawmaker from New Port Richey who opposed the two bills passed last year to clear the foreclosure backlog. “It was, ‘How can we speed up forcing people out of their homes?’ ”
Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican from Naples who sponsored a bill to streamline foreclosures that passed last year, said borrowers, banks and homeowner associations want to get the foreclosures behind them.
“Lots of people just want to get it over with and get on with their life,” she said.
“Lots of people just want to get it over with and get on with their life,” she said.
To accomplish its goal of eliminating the backlog of foreclosures, the state has set up a parallel legal system in which judges hear only foreclosure cases — often more than a hundred motions a day — in courtrooms set up solely for that purpose, under rules that differ from those that guide civil law in other types of cases in Florida and across the country.
The state set an express goal of disposing of 256,000 cases in each of the three years of the effort.
2. Facial Recognition
Forget fingerprints, now your face is on file and captured every where you go. The FBI has announced that its facial recognition system – launched three years ago – is now “fully operational.” The facial recognition program is part of the Next Generation Identification (NGI) System which is set to replace the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Though it is not really an either or with fingerprints and face recognition as the new system seeks to collect many forms of biometric data.
With the growing prevalence of surveillance cameras it will not be long before Americans walking down a street in any city or town may find their biometric information being run through the FBI’s database – automatically and without consent. The panopticon will be televised, for some.
If you are ever arrested, for anything, your biometric data will be included in the system and provide future employers with an opportunity to investigate your background thanks to some of the new features with NGI according to the FBI:
As part of NGI’s full operational capability, the NGI team is introducing two new services: Rap Back and the Interstate Photo System (IPS). Rap Back is a functionality that enables authorized entities the ability to receive ongoing status notifications of any criminal history reported on individuals holding positions of trust, such as school teachers. Law enforcement agencies, probation and parole offices, and other criminal justice entities will also greatly improve their effectiveness by being advised of subsequent criminal activity of persons under investigation or supervision.
The IPS facial recognition service will provide the nation’s law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities. This effort is a significant step forward for the criminal justice community in utilizing biometrics as an investigative enabler.
What could go wrong? Clearly the problem in America is too many people working who have criminal records that their employers don’t know about – wait, actually the problem is a massive prison-industrial complex that makes imprisoning people a business and ensures those that churn through that system are unable to integrate back into society without great difficulty.
It is also interesting to note that the FBI describes IPS as an “investigative enabler” which raises questions about how the system is applied to finding someone who is not in the database because they have yet to ever be arrested. How will IPS be used in that scenario? Might it be that photos from state license databases – such as the department of motor vehicles – will be integrated into IPS? If so, then this will really be a system for everyone won’t it? Where anyone who has a photo ID from a federal or state agency will be included and accessible.
3. Chuck vs Suck
And maybe, to change all that, you get Charlie Crist, ex-Republican, who will run the state like a business, or maybe not bother to run it much at all, while nodding more telegenically at the Everglades, women, gay people and minorities. This is the kind of grand political spectrum Florida and the nation offers its citizens, and this is your future. You can have a Republican, or you can have someone who is basically a Republican with varying degrees of empathy. Or, in more brutal terms, the difference between Charlie Crist and Rick Scott is the difference between a Republican and a Republican who is overtly evil or insane.
4. global frackdown 10/11/14
While the oil and gas industry is working hard to protect its profits and drown out the worldwide demand for clean, renewable fuels, there is a tremendous global movement afoot to protect our air, water, climate and communities from fracking.
Over 200 partner organizations around the world are coming together for an international day of protests on October 11, 2014, calling for an end to fracking. Enter your postal code to find an event near you or create your own!
In conjunction with the Global Frackdown, there is a major day of action against international trade agreements in Europe. A number of groups who work against fracking are participating in this event, which includes an anti-fracking platform. Find trade related actions.
5. CLIMATE and You, you, you
On September 24th, The President said " We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it"
YOU ARE INVITED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
THURSDAY OCTOBER 9th
First UUPM Ministers Hall
635 Prosperity Farms Road NPB
Join members of your community to learn how climate change is already affecting Florida, and what YOU can do now to change the outlook. We will also discuss the Regional Climate Action Plan and Compact (RCAP) and the Federal Climate Action Plan and how they relate to our county and state.
“This is the moral issue of our time and we have a choice. Are we going to let the effects of climate change destroy our homes and way of life as we know it, or are we going to stand up together and stop it?” said Rev. CJ McGregor, Minister of First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palm Beaches, co-sponsor of the presentation, with Organizing for Action Palm Beach County/Treasure Coast.
RSVP : https://my.barackobama.com/page/event/search_results?orderby=day&zip_radius=33418&zip_radius=40&country=US&radius_unit=mi
Contact: Marika Stone, Environmental Justice Team
A community dinner is being offered at 6 pm for $10/person and reservations for the meal are required. Contact the church office at 561-627-6105 to reserve. Ample parking.
6. WHO COUNTS
Thanks to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals down in New Orleans, we now know what percentage of an affected population can have its constitutionally protected rights curtailed before that percentage can be considered "significant" enough to have those rights protected from meddling by the government.
The percentage is one-in-six.
The three-judge panel agreed with the state's lawyers that there was insufficient evidence that a "large fraction" of women seeking abortions would face an unconstitutional burden because of the surgical-center requirements and clinic closings. They wrote that the data provided by one of the plaintiffs' experts, Dr. Daniel Grossman, suggested that about one out of six Texas women seeking an abortion would live more than 150 miles from the nearest clinic if the surgical-center rules went into effect. "This is nowhere near a ‘large fraction,' " the panel wrote.
All right, so if one-in-six gun owners have their firearms confiscated, that is not an "undue burden" on gun owners. If one-in-six private homes are entered without a warrant, that is not an "undue burden" on home owners. If one-in-six criminal defendants are forced to testify against themselves, or denied counsel, or a trial by jury, that is not an "undue burden" on defendants. If one-in-six families are required to quarter troops in their dens, that is not an "undue burden" on the family divan. I would like to thank the Fifth Circuit for clearing that up.
Of course, to defend this ruling, you have to pretend that a) the law in question was passed to "protect women's health" and not to curtail a constitutionally protected right that many people find icky, and b) that the judges care enough about women, particularly poor women, not to make themselves part of this ongoing charade. At the district court level, Judge Lee Yeakel declined to join the puppet show.
In an unusual move, the judge granted the abortion providers who sued the state broader relief than they had requested. Lawyers for abortion facilities had asked him to strike down the requirement as it applied to two clinics, in El Paso and McAllen. But Judge Yeakel ruled the admitting-privileges requirement and the surgical-center standards, operating together, put undue burdens on women statewide, and created "a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics."
This is, of course, the obvious intent of the law, despite the remarkable efforts to defend it put forward by Governor Goodhair from behind the Spectacles Of Wisdom. (Goodhair argued that, if Joan Rivers had been treated under requirements Texas has placed on its women's health clinics, she'd be alive today. Joan Rivers remains dead. Goodhair remains a dunce.) The law has required like-minded judges to pretend that its obvious purpose is irrelevant to their decisions. It places the courts -- and the like-minded judges salted throughout them over the past three decades -- in the position of ruling in favor of pretense and fraud, of passing judgment on misdirection and legalistic sleight-of-hand. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals did precisely that. They accepted as precedent the legal status of Texas law as a long con, and the women that are its only subjects as marks who deserve what they get. Caveat emptor. Move to a different state.
7. KOCH OUT
Tim Dickinson's fantastic expose of the Koch brothers in the latest issue of Rolling Stone has gotten plenty of attention. For very good reason: it's a well-sourced, deep dive into the very toxic—literally toxic—business that earned the Kochs enough money to buy up an entire political party. That and the wrongful death judgement, six felony and numerous misdemeanor convictions, the tens of millions of dollars in fines, and the trading with Iran are all included in the story, well worth your time.
No one has given it more attention, it seems, than thenotoriously thin-skinned Kochs. In typical Koch fashion, they don't argue the facts of Dickinson's story. They attack Dickinson,who responds here. Here's the nut of his detailed response.
Koch, in particular, takes umbrage with my reporting practices.
For the record: In the weeks prior to publication, beginning September 4th, Rolling Stone attempted to engage Koch Industries in a robust discussion of the issues raised in our reporting. Rolling Stone requested to interview CEO Charles Koch about his company's philosophy of Market Based Management; Ilia Bouchouev, who heads Koch's derivatives trading operations, about the company's trading practices; and top Koch lawyer Mark Holden about the company's significant legal and regulatory history.
The requests to speak to Charles Koch and Bouchouev were simply ignored. Ultimately, only Holden responded on the record, only via e-mail and only after Holden baselessly insinuated that I had been given an "opposition research" document dump from the liberal activist David Brock. (This is false.) From my perspective as a reporter, Koch Industries is the most hostile and paranoid organization I've ever engaged with—and I've reported on Fox News. In a breach of ethics, Koch has also chosen to publish email correspondence characterizing the content of a telephone conversation that was, by Koch's own insistence, strictly off the record. […]
[I]n the main, the Koch responses attempt to re-litigate closed cases — incidents where judges, juries, and, in one case, a Senate Select Committee, have already had a final say. They only muddy waters that have been clarified by a considered legal process.
Dickinson then provides an exhaustive, 14-point taken down of each of the Kochs' complaints about his story, including every instance in which the Kochs do not actually dispute the facts that he has reported, but attempt to obfuscate them and whine about that fact that he reported them. They also don't acknowledge that Dickinson attempted to give them the opportunity to talk to him about his story while reporting, but they refused.
The Kochs clearly do not stand up well to close scrutiny, and clearly are not prepared for it. For some reason, probably because they're richer than god, they seem to assume that they should be able to swoop into our political system and attempt to buy it without being subject to close examination. That attitude, along with their long history of abusing people, the environment, and the political system, is doing them no favors. They've made themselves the subject of this election, and if Democrats hold the Senate, it will largely be because the Kochs have made themselves such good enemies.
8. Scalia and RELIGIOUS ZEAL
Speaking at Colorado Christian University, he said:
I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion.
I mean, we all knew he believes this. (And so does Thomas.) But the fact that he admits it so baldly -- that he doesn't care that his minority opinion is out there for everyone to laugh at -- is still stunning. Not only does he believe that government should favor religion over non-religion, but his interpretation of the First Amendment gives no quarter to the irreligious at all.
And we're stuck with him until he gives up the ghost.
“What can they do to me? I have life tenure,” Justice Scalia said. “It’s even better than academic tenure.”
“It’s a long, uphill fight to get back to original orthodoxy. We have two ‘originalists’ on the Supreme Court,” Scalia said, referring to Thomas. “That’s something. But I feel like Frodo … We’ll get clobbered in the end, but it’s worth it.”
9. Depression Denial Syndrome
Last week, Bill Gross, the so-called bond king, abruptly left Pimco, the investment firm he had managed for decades. People who follow the financial industry were shocked but not exactly surprised; tales of internal troubles at Pimco had been all over the papers. But why should you care?
The answer is that Mr. Gross’s fall is a symptom of a malady that continues to afflict major decision-makers, public and private. Call it depression denial syndrome: the refusal to acknowledge that the rules are different in a persistently depressed economy.
Mr. Gross is, by all accounts, a man with a towering ego and very difficult to work with. That description, however, fits a lot of financial players, and even the most lurid personality conflicts wouldn’t have mattered if Pimco had continued to do well. But it didn’t, largely thanks to a spectacularly bad call Mr. Gross made in 2011, which continues to haunt the firm. And here’s the thing: Lots of other influential people made the same bad call — and are still making it, over and over again.
The story here really starts years earlier, when an immense housing bubble popped. Spending on new houses collapsed, and broader consumer spending also took a hit, as families that had borrowed heavily to buy houses saw the value of those homes plunge. Businesses cut back, too. Why add capacity in the face of weak consumer demand?
The result was an economy in which everyone wanted to save more and invest less. Since everyone can’t do that at the same time, something else had to give — and, in fact, two things gave. First, the economy went into a slump, from which it has not yet fully emerged. Second, the government began running a deficit, as the economic downturn caused a sharp fall in revenue and a surge in some kinds of spending, like food stamps and unemployment benefits.
Now, we normally think of deficits as a bad thing — government borrowing competes with private borrowing, driving up interest rates, hurting investment, and possibly setting the stage for higher inflation. But, since 2008, we have, to use the economics jargon, been stuck in a liquidity trap, which is basically a situation in which the economy is awash in desired saving with no place to go. In this situation, government borrowing doesn’t compete with private demand because the private sector doesn’t want to spend. And because they aren’t competing with the private sector, deficits needn’t cause interest rates to rise.
All this may sound strange and counterintuitive, but it’s what basic macroeconomic analysis tells you. And that’s not 20/20 hindsight either. In 2008-9, a number of economists — yes, myself included — tried to explain the special circumstances of a depressed economy, in which deficits wouldn’t cause soaring rates and the Federal Reserve’s policy of “printing money” (not really what it was doing, but never mind) wouldn’t cause inflation. It wasn’t just theory, either; we had the experience of the 1930s and Japan since the 1990s to draw on. But many, perhaps most, influential people in the alleged real world refused to believe us.
10. THE NSA and We
by James Bamford
author of: puzzle palace / Body of Secrets /The Shadow Factory
The tone of the answering machine message was routine, like a reminder for a dental appointment. But there was also an undercurrent of urgency. “Please call me back,” the voice said. “It’s important.”
What worried me was who was calling: a senior attorney with the Justice Department’s secretive Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. By the time I hung up the payphone at a little coffee shop in Cambridge, Mass., and wandered back to my table, strewn with yellow legal pads and dog-eared documents, I had guessed what he was after: my copy of the Justice Department’s top-secret criminal file on the National Security Agency. Only two copies of the original were ever made. Now I had to find a way to get it out of the country—fast.
It was July 8, 1981, a broiling Wednesday in Harvard Square, and I was in a quiet corner of the Algiers Coffee House on Brattle Street. A cool, souk-like basement room, with the piney aroma of frankincense, it made for a perfect hideout to sort through documents, jot down notes, and pore over stacks of newspapers while sipping bottomless cups of Arabic coffee and espresso the color of dark chocolate.
For several years I had been working on my first book, The Puzzle Palace, which provided the first in-depth look at the National Security Agency. The deeper I dug, the more troubled I became. Not only did the classified file from the Justice Department accuse the NSA of systematically breaking the law by eavesdropping on American citizens, it concluded that it was impossible to prosecute those running the agency because of the enormous secrecy that enveloped it. Worse, the file made clear that the NSA itself was effectively beyond the law—allowed to bypass statutes passed by Congress and follow its own super-classified charter, what the agency called a “top-secret birth certificate” drawn up by the White House decades earlier.
Knowing the potential for such an unregulated agency to go rogue, I went on to write two more books about the NSA, Body of Secrets, in 2001, and The Shadow Factory, in 2008. My goal was to draw attention to the dangers the agency posed if it is not closely watched and controlled—dangers that would be laid bare in stark detail by Edward Snowden years later.
“You Want to Hear Something Interesting?”
The idea of writing a book about the NSA had occurred to me several years earlier. During the war in Vietnam, I spent three years in the Navy at Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Hawaii. It was a nice venue a long way from the bloody battlefields, where the only dangers were rogue surfboards on Waikiki Beach and bar fights on Hotel Street. Assigned to an NSA unit, I experienced the war vicariously: One of my jobs every morning was reading a foot-high stack of overnight messages from the war zone, mostly NSA reports classified top secret and higher, and passing them on to whichever project officer had responsibility to simply read or take action.
Later, in law school and running low on cash, I decided to rejoin the Naval Reserve to help pay for living expenses. The Navy was very accommodating, allowing me to pick not only when I wanted to do my two weeks of active duty, but also where. So I decided to request two weeks in October 1974, which coincided with a school break. And for location I chose Puerto Rico—a nice warm island far from chilly Boston. Although I had NSA clearances, I had never worked at an actual NSA intercept site. Nevertheless, the Navy decided to send me down to Sabana Seca, one of the agency’s key listening posts, which focused on Cuba, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Like most listening posts at the time, Sabana Seca consisted of a gigantic circular antenna about half a mile wide and a hundred or so feet high, an odd structure that closely resembled its nickname—the “elephant cage.” Known as a Wullenweber antenna, it was used not only to intercept communications, but also to assist in triangulating where the transmissions were coming from. At the center of the elephant cage was the operations building, a windowless, two-story, gray cement Rubik’s cube. Inside were tall racks of receivers with blinking lights, big black dials, oval-shaped gauges, and silver toggle switches facing rows of earphone-clad men and women in blue Navy-issue dungarees.
Unfamiliar with the technology and unable to speak more than rudimentary Spanish, I spent my two weeks pushing a few papers and staying out of the way, hoping to avoid work as much as possible. But one day an intercept operator with whom I had downed a few beers at the base club the night before spotted me and waved me over. “You want to hear something interesting?” he said as he took off his earphones. I thanked him but explained I didn’t speak Spanish. “No, no,” he said, “It’s English.” So I put on the earphones and listened in to what appeared to be several Americans carrying on a conversation. I only heard a few snippets, not enough to get a sense of the topic, but I was surprised. “Interesting,” I said. “You get many Americans speaking?” He said they did on certain channels they were assigned to target. I thanked him, said something about getting another beer later that night, and wandered off to watch some other intercept operators pulling in long reams of blue teletype paper covered in Spanish.
It was only when I was back in Boston, where I had a part-time job as a student prosecutor with the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, that the conversation came back to me. I was working on a case in which the topic of a wiretap came up, and there was a long discussion about procedures for a warrant. I suddenly wondered what legal authority the intercept operators at Sabana Seca had to target American conversations. I did a little research in the law library, but could find nothing that gave the military any powers for warrantless eavesdropping on Americans.
A few weeks later, just before Christmas, The New York Times broke a series of stories by Seymour Hersh outlining Operation Chaos, the program by which the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies targeted U.S. citizens involved in anti-war protests. The articles caused widespread public outrage, followed by a high-profile congressional investigation led by Senator Frank Church. I felt certain that whatever it was I saw—and heard—in Sabana Seca would soon be discovered.
But during the summer of 1975, as reports began leaking out from the Church Committee, I was surprised to learn that the NSA was claiming that it had shut down all of its questionable operations a year and a half earlier. Surprised because I knew the eavesdropping on Americans had continued at least into the prior fall, and may have still been going on. After thinking for a day or so about the potential consequences of blowing the whistle on the NSA—I was still in the Naval Reserve, still attending drills one weekend a month, and still sworn to secrecy with an active NSA clearance—I nevertheless decided to call the Church Committee.
It was July 1, and at first the staffer with whom I spoke sounded skeptical—someone calling out of the blue and accusing the NSA of lying. But after I mentioned my work at Sabana Seca, he asked how soon I could come down to Washington to testify. At 8:40 the next morning, I boarded American Airlines Flight 605 and took seat 13A—an unlucky number, I thought. It would be the first of numerous trips. The committee agreed to keep my name confidential and allowed me to testify in executive session in Sen. Church’s private office. Soon after, committee staffers flew down to Sabana Seca for a surprise inspection. Surprise, indeed. They were shocked to discover the program had never been shut down, despite the NSA’s claims.
“Just Because the Information Has Been Published Doesn’t Mean it Should No Longer Be Classified”
The discovery that the NSA had been lying to the Church Committee shocked me. But it also gave me the idea to write the first book about the agency. As more and more revelations came out about the NSA’s widespread, illegal eavesdropping activities, I found myself filled with questions. Where did the agency come from? What did it do? How did it operate? Who was watching it? In the summer of 1979, after a year of research, I submitted a proposal to Houghton Mifflin for The Puzzle Palace, and within a few months was awarded a book contract. It was the start of wild ride, taking on an agency so secret that even New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley told me, at the time, that he had never heard of it.
I soon learned that there was one major advantage to being first: The NSA had grown so confident that no one would ever dare to write about it that it had let its guard down. I would occasionally drive up to the agency, park in the executive parking lot, walk in the front door to the lobby, get some coffee and have a seat. All around me were employees from the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies, all waiting to be processed for their NSA visitor’s badge. As I read my paper and sipped my coffee, I quietly listened to them chat away about signals intelligence operations, new listening posts, cooperative agreements, and a host of other topics. No one ever asked who I was or why I was there. In the parking lot, I copied the license plate numbers of the dozen cars parked closest to the front entrance, then ran the numbers at the registry of motor vehicles. The result was a Who’s Who of the NSA’s leadership, as well as the liaison officers from America’s so-called Five Eyes surveillance partners: England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
By the summer of 1981, I had also won several significant legal battles with the agency. As a result of an out-of-court settlement, the NSA was forced to give me a tour of the agency, detail the entire structure of its internal organization to me, and provide me interviews with senior officials. Even though the agency was virtually immune from the Freedom of Information Act, I managed to find a loophole that allowed me access to more than 6,000 pages of internal documents. I even worked out an agreement whereby they would provide me with an office in the agency for a week to go through the 6,000 pages. But then the NSA got its revenge—when they handed me the 6,000 pages, they were all out of order, as if they had been shuffled like a new deck of cards. Nothing in the Freedom of Information Act, it turns out, requires collation. The hostility became so intense that the director, Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, accused me of using a “hostage approach” in my battle to force the agency to give me documents and interviews.
But the NSA knew nothing about one of my biggest finds, which took place on the campus of the Virginia Military Institute. Nicknamed “the West Point of the South,” VMI housed the papers of William F. Friedman, a founder of both the NSA and of American cryptology. The NSA’s own auditorium is named after him. Yet Friedman had soured on the agency by the time he retired, and deliberately left his papers to a research library at VMI to get them as far away from the NSA as possible.
After Friedman’s death, and without his permission, agency officials traveled to the library, pulled out hundreds of his personal letters, and ordered them locked away in a secure vault. When I discovered what the NSA had done, I persuaded the library’s archivist to give me access to the letters, all of which were unclassified. Many were embarrassingly critical of the agency, describing its enormous paranoia and obsession with secrecy. Others contained clues to a secret trips that Friedman had made to Switzerland, where he helped the agency gain backdoor access into encryption systems that a Swiss company was selling to foreign countries.
I also discovered that a former NSA director, Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter, had left his papers – including reams of unclassified documents from his NSA office – to the same research library at VMI. They included personal, handwritten correspondence from Carter’s British counterpart about listening posts, cooperative agreements, and other sensitive topics. Later, Carter gave me a long and detailed interview about the NSA. The agency knew nothing about either the documents or the interview.
Following the publication of my book, the NSA raided the research library, stamped many of the Friedman documents secret, and ordered them put back into the vault. “Just because information has been published,” NSA director Lincoln Faurer explained to The New York Times, “doesn’t mean it should no longer be classified.” Faurer also flew to Colorado, where Gen. Carter was living in retirement, met with him at the NSA listening post at Buckley Air Force Base, and threatened him with prosecution if he ever gave another interview or allowed anyone else access to his papers.
“Prima Facie Questions of Criminality”
But my biggest battle with the NSA came before my book was even published. Without the agency’s knowledge, I had obtained the criminal file that the Justice Department had opened on the NSA. Marked as Top Secret, the file was so sensitive that only two original copies existed. Never before or since has an entire agency been the subject of a criminal investigation. Senior officials at the NSA were even read their Miranda rights.
The secret investigation grew out of the final report by the Rockefeller Commission, a panel that had been set up by President Gerald Ford to parallel the Church Committee. Issued on June 6, 1975, the report noted that both the NSA and CIA had engaged in questionable and possibly illegal electronic surveillance. As a result, Attorney General Edward Levi established a secret internal task force to look into the potential for criminal prosecution. Focusing particularly on NSA, the task force probed more deeply into domestic eavesdropping than any part of the executive branch had ever done before.
I had heard rumors from several sources about such a probe, so I thought it would be worth requesting a copy of the file under FOIA. Nevertheless, I was surprised when the documents, with relatively few redactions, turned up at my door 10 months later. They included a lengthy, detailed “Report on Inquiry into CIA-Related Surveillance Activities” that laid out the investigation in stark detail, as well as a shorter draft “prosecutive summary” evaluating the potential for criminal prosecution. I was shocked that the Justice Department had released them to me without notifying the NSA. An official at Justice later told me that it was standard procedure not to notify the object of a criminal investigation (think John Gotti) once it is completed and requested under FOIA.
It turned out that just as with its investigations into organized crime, the Justice Department had received little cooperation from the potential criminal defendant – in this case, the NSA. Noting that the attitude of agency officials “ranged from circumspection to wariness,” the file made clear that the NSA had stonewalled investigators at every step. “One typically had to ask the right question to elicit the right answer or document,” an attorney for the Justice Department reported. “It is likely, therefore, that we had insufficient information on occasion to frame the ‘magic’ question.”
But the agency’s obstructionism didn’t prevent the Justice Department from finding evidence of serious wrongdoing. The draft prosecutive summary of the Justice Department’s investigative task force, dated March 4, 1977, and classified top secret detailed 23 categories of questionable eavesdropping operations. Five of the illegal activities were immune from prosecution because the statute of limitations had passed, and seven were found to “clearly possess no prosecutive potential.” The rest, however, were fair game for criminal prosecution. Discussing the agency’s Operation Minaret, for example, the full report concluded: “This electronic surveillance activity presents prima facie questions of criminality and is well within the limitations period.”
The prosecutive summary had been sent to Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti for further action. But any attempt to prosecute top officials of America’s most secret agency, the file warned, would almost certainly be met by finger-pointing and scapegoating. “There is likely to be much ‘buck-passing’ from subordinate to superior, agency to agency, agency to board or committee, board or committee to the President, and from the living to the dead,” the report cautioned.
In addition, calling the crimes “an international cause célèbre involving fundamental constitutional rights of United States citizens,” the task force pointed to the likelihood that the NSA would put political pressure on anyone who dared to testify against it. What’s more, the report added, defense attorneys for senior NSA officials would likely subpoena “every tenuously involved government official and former official” to establish that the illegal operations had been authorized from on high. “While the high office of prospective defense witnesses should not enter into the prosecutive decision,” the report noted, “the confusion, obfuscation, and surprise testimony which might result cannot be ignored.”
The report’s prosecutive summary also pointed to the NSA’s top-secret “charter” issued by the Executive Branch, which exempts the agency from legal restraints placed on the rest of the government. “Orders, directives, policies, or recommendations of any authority of the Executive branch relating to the collection . . . of intelligence,” the charter reads, “shall not be applicable to Communications Intelligence activities, unless specifically so stated.” This so-called “birth certificate,” the Justice Department report concluded, meant the NSA did not have to follow any restrictions placed on electronic surveillance “unless it was expressly directed to do so.” In short, the report asked, how can you prosecute an agency that is above the law?
“Put Down the Receiver, Leave the Room, and Keep Walking”
If the first shock to top officials at the NSA was the discovery that they were being investigated as potential criminals, the second shock was that I had a copy of the top secret file on the investigation. When the NSA discovered that the file was in my possession, director Bobby Inman wrote to the attorney general informing him that the documents contained classified information and should never have been handed over to me. But Civiletti, apparently believing that the file had been properly reviewed and declassified, ignored Inman’s protest.
Then, on January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan was sworn into office. At the Justice Department, Civiletti was replaced by a new attorney general with a much more accommodating attitude when it came to the NSA: William French Smith.
A few months later, while I was working on a chapter of my book that dealt with the Five Eyes partnership, I sent a letter to George Gapp, the senior liaison officer from GCHQ, the NSA’s British counterpart. In the letter, I noted that documents released to me by the Justice Department implicated his agency in Operation Minaret, the illegal NSA program directed against American citizens. I asked whether he knew of GCHQ’s involvement in the operation and whether the agency was currently engaged in any similar activities in the United States.
The letter apparently set off a firestorm, both at the NSA and GCHQ. Lt. Gen. Faurer, who had replaced Inman as director, sent a letter to the new attorney general again pointing out that the documents in my possession contained top-secret material. Considering that they accused his agency of being a criminal enterprise, they were also embarrassing to the NSA, and potentially explosive. The decision was made to try to get them back from me before the publication of my book.
Thus the answering machine message I heard on that steamy day in Cambridge, while I was quietly working away at a back table in the Algiers Coffee House. The call was from Gerald Schroeder, a senior attorney with the Justice Department. When I called him back, he asked whether we could meet in Washington to discuss the file that had been released to me by his own department. The Reagan Justice Department, it seemed, now wanted to reverse the decision of the Carter Justice Department and get the documents back.
Long before the arrival of the internet, and the ability to transfer documents at the tap of a finger, I was very concerned about what the agency might do to retrieve the physical copy of the file in my possession. Years before, when David Kahn had written his monumental history of cryptology, the agency had considered placing him under surveillance and conducting a “surreptitious entry” into his Long Island home to steal the manuscript prior to publication. Decades earlier, after Herbert Yardley wrote about the Black Chamber, the predecessor to NSA, the Justice Department actually did steal the manuscript for his second book, preventing it from ever being published.
My first thought was to quickly make a duplicate of the file and get the copy out of the country. That would protect the documents not only from theft, but also from any court order prohibiting me from revealing their contents. With a copy beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, a foreign newspaper could always publish the documents.
I called a close friend who worked for the Insight Team, the investigative unit of London’s Sunday Times. She agreed to help. It turned out that an American journalist she knew was flying from Boston to London that night, and she quickly arranged for him to take the documents with him and give them to her to hide.
That night I met the journalist on a dark Boston street corner and passed him a package, with the understanding that I was not to tell him what it contained. He wanted as little information as possible, in case he was questioned later. Early the next morning, my friend at the Sunday Times called from London with a code indicating that all was well and that the documents were in a secure place.
With the documents safely beyond the reach of the Justice Department, I next turned to my next problem – finding an attorney to represent me. With the advance on my book totaling $7,500, spread over three years, I was in no position to seek out a white-shoe law firm on Beacon Hill. Instead, I called the ACLU’s Center for National Security Studies and explained my problem. They immediately put me in touch with Mark Lynch, a staff attorney at the center who had considerable experience going up against intelligence agencies, including the NSA. Lynch agreed to represent me.
On July 23, two weeks after I had received the phone call at the coffee shop, Lynch and I met with Schroeder for an hour and a half in the conference room of the center, a cluster of rooms in the stately Stewart Mott house on Capitol Hill. Schroeder began by insisting that the two documents had been released to me “by mistake.” The NSA and the CIA had determined that they contained information that was still classified, he said, and the Justice Department would like me to return them.
I politely informed Schroeder that the documents had been in my possession for more than two years, that material from them was already incorporated into my manuscript, and that the Carter administration had spent 10 months reviewing them before releasing the documents to me. There had been no mistake. In addition, because the documents raised questions about criminal activities by the NSA and CIA, I felt it was important for the public to be informed. In the end, we agreed to another meeting – but this time I insisted that since I had traveled to Washington for the first meeting, they would come to Boston for the next one.
The second meeting took place on August 14, in the editorial conference room of my publisher, Houghton Mifflin, on Beacon Hill. This time, the government dispensed with any attempt at politeness. Accompanying Schroeder were the NSA’s general counsel, Daniel Schwartz, and the agency’s director of policy, Eugene Yeates. They immediately began by interrogating me. How many copies of the document I had made? Whom I had given them to? Where were the documents now located? I responded that none of those questions were on the agenda; since my attorney could not be present, we had agreed in advance that the meeting was simply to allow them to explain the government’s position. Any questions, I said, would have to go through Mark Lynch. I pointed to the phone.
After placing a call to Lynch, Schroeder brought up the possibility of using the espionage statute to force me to return the documents. Lynch immediately asked to speak with me privately.
Once the three officials left the room, Lynch expressed worry over the way the meeting was going. The officials could have a subpoena or a restraining order or a warrant for my arrest in their pocket, he said. He advised me to put down the receiver, call Schroeder to the phone, leave the room – and keep walking. To this day, I still have no idea how long the three officials waited for me to return before finding their way out of the publishing house and back to Washington.
The fight quickly escalated. On September 24, after we informed Schroeder that I was going to use the documents in my book and that all further discussions would be pointless, I received a registered letter. “You are currently in possession of classified information that requires protection against unauthorized disclosure,” Schroeder wrote. “Under the circumstances, I have no choice but to demand that you return the two documents . . . Of course, you will have a continuing obligation not to publish or communicate the information.” To emphasize the point, on November 27 the Justice Department sent my attorney a letter stating that “there should be no misunderstanding of the Government’s position that Mr. Bamford holds information that is currently and properly classified” and that failure to return the documents could force federal prosecutors to resort to an unnamed “post-publication judicial remedy.”
Despite the threats, I refused to alter my manuscript or return the documents. Instead, we argued that according to Executive Order 12065, “classification may not be restored to documents already declassified and released to the public” under the Freedom of Information Act. That prompted the drama to move all the way up to the White House. On April 2, 1982, President Reagan signed a new executive order on secrecy that overturned the earlier one and granted him the authority to “reclassify information previously declassified and disclosed.”
We responded by citing the legal principle of ex post facto, arguing that even if the new executive order was legal, Reagan could not retroactively enforce it against me. The Puzzle Palace was published on schedule, in September 1982, with no deletions or alterations to the text. And ever since then, the NSA’s criminal file – still officially top secret, according to the NSA – has remained on my bookshelf.
Wrongdoing Masquerading as Patriotism
More than three decades later, the NSA, like a mom-and-pop operation that has exploded into a global industry, now employs sweeping powers of surveillance that Frank Church could scarcely have imagined in the days of wired phones and clunky typewriters. At the same time, the Senate intelligence committee he once chaired has done an about face, protecting the agencies from the public rather than the public from the agencies.
It is a dangerous combination – one the Church Committee warned of long ago. “The potential for abuse is awesome,” the committee observed, especially when “checks and balances designed … to assure accountability have not been applied.” As the committee presciently noted in its report, “Intelligence collection programs naturally generate ever-increasing demands for new data.”
For proof, one need only look at the NSA’s ever-expanding array of surveillance techniques. The agency’s metadata collection program now targets everyone in the country old enough to hold a phone. The gargantuan data storage facility it has built in Utah may eventually hold zettabytes (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) of information. And the massive supercomputer that the NSA is secretly building in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, will search through it all at exaflop (1,000,000,000,000,000,000 operations per second) speeds.
Without adequate oversight, or penalties for abuse, the only protection that citizens have comes not from Congress or the courts, but from whistleblowers. As one myself, albeit in the most minor capacity, I understand what motivates someone to expose wrongdoing masquerading as patriotism. There is no graduate school for whistleblowing and no handbook for whistleblowers. It’s an imperfect science, and whistleblowers learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Tom Drake, Bill Binney and Kirk Wiebe all came from different backgrounds and worked in different fields. None joined the intelligence community to become a whistleblower, but each was driven by unchecked government abuse to tell the public what they knew to be true.
The solution is not to jail the whistleblowers, or to question the patriotism of those who tell their stories, but to do what Attorney General Edward Levi courageously attempted to do more than a third of a century ago – to have the criminal division of the Justice Department conduct a thorough investigation, and then to prosecute any member of the intelligence community who has broken the law, whether by illegally spying on Americans or by lying to Congress.