Thursday, March 04, 2010

DOD Releases Records of Illegal Surveillance

By William Fisher

Defense Department agencies improperly collected and disseminated intelligence on Planned Parenthood and a white supremacist group called the National Alliance, an Air Force briefing improperly included intelligence on an anti-war group called Alaskans for Peace and Justice, and Army Signals Intelligence in Louisiana unlawfully intercepted civilian cell phone conversations.

These are among the disclosures made this week in the release of more than 800 heavily-redacted pages of intelligence oversight reports, detailing activities that the Defense Department’s (DOD) Inspector General has “reason to believe are unlawful.”

The reports are the latest in an ongoing document release by more than a half-dozen intelligence agencies in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The reports, submitted to the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) by the Inspectors General of the various Department of Defense components, cover the period from 2001 through 2008. The IOB’s role within the Executive Office of the President is to ensure that each component of the intelligence community works within the Constitution and all applicable laws.

The Inspector General of each intelligence agency is required to submit periodic reports to the IOB, which in turn is required to forward to the Attorney General any report identifying an intelligence activity that violates the law. Intelligence oversight reporting is rarely disclosed to the public.

This new release comes from various DOD components, including the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Much of the improper activity consisted of intelligence gathering on so-called “U.S. Persons,” including citizens, permanent residents and U.S.-based organizations.

While DOD agencies are generally prohibited from collecting such
information (except as part of foreign intelligence or counter-intelligence
activity), EFF says “it is apparent from the unredacted reports released to EFF that some DOD components have had chronic difficulty complying with that prohibition.”

Specific disclosures include:

· A report that the Joint Forces Command, working with the FBI, improperly collected and disseminated intelligence on Planned Parenthood and a white supremacist group called the National Alliance, as part of preparations for the 2002 Olympics.

· A North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)
briefing improperly included intelligence on an anti-war group called Alaskans for Peace and Justice in 2005.

· A 2006 report that NORAD had procedural problems relating to collecting information on U.S. Persons.

· A report from 2003 of a closed investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq.

· A report from 2006 of improper intelligence (in the TALON program) on an anti-recruiting group. The TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) program grew out of the Air Force neighborhood watch program known as Eagle Eyes. It was designed to record potential terrorist pre-attack activity.

· A report from 2007 of an Army Reserve officer routinely collecting data on U.S. Persons exercising their free speech rights.

· A 2008 report that Army Signals Intelligence in Louisiana intercepted civilian cell phone conversations.

· A 2008 report that Army Cyber Counterintelligence officers attended the Black Hat hacker conference without disclosing their Army affiliation and without prior authorization to do so.

· A report that the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) set up a “honey pot” computer system to identify foreign threats in May 2006. In October 2007, AFOSI realized that the honey pot system might have been in violation of a sealed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order that required a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant for such activity. AFOSI was not privy to the FISC order and only knew of it from public media reporting. The operation was suspended. When the Air Force asked the Justice Department to see the FISC order at issue, DOJ’s National Security Division denied the Air Force’s request.

Asked by Truthout to comment on the significance of the document release, Nate Cardozo, a Legal Fellow at EFF, said, “To get any response at all from the DOD is noteworthy. At DOD the unlawful gathering of intelligence is a widespread practice that we consider problematic.”

He added that the disclosures are also important because they test the efficiency of the intelligence oversight mechanism – and “we find it seems to be working fairly well.”

Finally, he said, “We are interested in how many of these violations of law are referred to the Attorney General for possible criminal prosecution. Our experience is that that number is miniscule.”

EFF’s original FOIA request, dating back to February 2008, went unanswered, as did another request in June of 2009. As a result, in July 2009, EFF filed suit against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a half-dozen other federal agencies involved in intelligence gathering, demanding the immediate release of reports about potential misconduct. EFF’s suit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), requesting records of intelligence agencies' reporting of activities since 2001 that might have been unlawful or contrary to presidential order.

"By executive order, federal intelligence agencies must submit concerns about potentially illegal activity to the Intelligence Oversight Board and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence," EFF’s Cardozo said.

"Intelligence agencies are given a wide berth for national security reasons, but at a minimum they're required to act within the limits of the law. These records hold important details about how well the Executive Branch's internal checks operate," he said.

Members of the Intelligence Oversight Board are appointed by the president to advise on intelligence matters.

A storm of media coverage followed the previous disclosure that the CIA chose to keep Congress in the dark about a plan to train anti-terrorist assassin teams. That disclosure focused public attention on the lack of transparency in intelligence reporting. Lawmakers accused the CIA of deliberately misleading Congress and called for an investigation into officials' conduct.

EFF says the reports the agencies have provided to the Intelligence Oversight Board “undoubtedly contain information that will shed some light on incidents such as this -- information that is necessary in order to provide appropriate oversight.”

In addition to the CIA, EFF's lawsuit named the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice (including the FBI), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Energy, and the Department of State -- all of which failed to comply with FOIA requests seeking records and reports of concerns about intelligence activity that might have stepped over the bounds of the law.

"The CIA is not the only agency that has faced questions about the legality of its intelligence programs," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Electronic surveillance and other intelligence activities have come under increasing scrutiny during the past several years. We're seeking information that will shed light on incidents of intelligence misconduct, how often they happen, and how effective oversight is for controversial programs. The agencies must follow the law and release these records to the public."

The first results of the EFF suit were delivered in December 2009. They included:

· The Department of Homeland Security improperly investigated the U.S.-based religious organization the Nation of Islam.

· High-level Pentagon officials gave false information to Congress about al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.

· The Department of Homeland Security improperly collected intelligence about a non-violent Muslim conference in Georgia, including details about conference speakers who were Americans.

· The National Security Agency admitted that, as of late 2007, it lacked processes and procedures for timely reporting of intelligence oversight violations.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Government Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists, thinks the latest document release is significant but inconclusive. He told Truthout, “The latest release leaves a lot of questions unanswered. For example, what was the specific nature of the reported activities? And what was the official response?”

As to the importance of the released documents, Aftergood said, “It's really hard to say. But still, thanks to EFF and the Freedom of Information Act, we at least have a better idea of how much we don't know.”

He added, “It's also somewhat encouraging that the DOD is complying with the requirement to report potentially unlawful activities. At least there is some kind of paper trail, even if much of remains classified for the time being.”

This article originally appeared in

Non-Profits Stimulate Communities

By William Fisher

While “community organizing” has become a punch line for late-night comedians since the election of Barack Obama as US president, the activity “delivers enormous benefits to communities,” according to a new study conducted by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).

The report, based on research into nearly 70 nonprofits from New Mexico, North Carolina, Minnesota and Los Angeles County over a five year period, concludes that “Americans receive extraordinary benefits from the policy advocacy and community organizing efforts by nonprofit organizations in their area, funded by foundations and other donors.”

It reports that these groups combined “generated nearly $14 billion worth of benefits for their diverse communities, and many other non-monetary gains. The return for every dollar invested in these groups ranged from $89 to a staggering $157.”

The report’s co-author, NCRP Senior Research Associate Lisa Ranghelli, told IPS, “Despite what some high profile commentators may decry as ‘community organizing,' this report clearly demonstrates that such activity delivers enormous benefits to communities.”

She said that most Americans are unaware of the substantial benefits generated by philanthropic funding of local organizations. Students of philanthropy acknowledge that many cultures have centuries-old traditions of charitable giving, and in a few countries wealthy benefactors have created foundations or trusts to organize their giving. But the United States is probably unique in the scope of its community voluntarism. The volunteer phenomenon has traveled only to a handful of other countries.

Community organizing has achieved a high level of notoriety since the Obama election, since the president was involved in this kind of work in Chicago as a young man. The field came under additional scrutiny centered around the organization known as ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). Critics, largely politicians and TV “talking heads” from the far right-wing of the Republican Party, have charged that ACORN was involved in widespread voter fraud. These charges have never been substantiated.

ACORN was one of the Los Angeles groups studied in the NCRP research.

The latest stage in that research involved 15 Los Angeles County nonprofit organizations, and found that from 2004 to 2008, area groups generated nearly $7 billion in benefits for local citizens, including $2.6 billion in higher wages, $2.2 billion in health care savings and more than $2 billion from increased use of public transit, construction of new schools and expanded affordable housing. These benefits were the direct result of community involvement in public policy.

“On every issue of concern to residents of Los Angeles County, from clean air to immigration, from equality to education, foundation support for community-based activist organizations yields positive results," said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of NCRP. "Foundation support turns indifference into democracy and the benefits of a thriving democracy are indeed substantial."

Los Angeles County is NCRP's fourth site in a series of reports. It documents how 13 nonprofit organizations and their allies leveraged foundation grants to secure nearly $91 of benefit for every dollar spent for Los Angeles citizens.

The report says there is a “dramatic, substantial return on investments” in policy engagement. “For every dollar foundations and other donors provided to community organizations engaged in advocacy and organizing, the funded groups realized $91 in benefits to the communities they serve.”

The report also tracks such non-monetized benefits as protection of voting rights, improved working conditions and expanded, more responsive service delivery to such marginalized groups as lesbians and gays and residents with limited English proficiency.

"The report demonstrates that foundations best serve their own objectives and generate the greatest impact on communities when we support advocacy and organizing at the grassroots level,” its authors say.

“There is no doubt that the impact could expand even more if we work in concert and focus resources through strategic grantmaking," said Kafi Blumenfield, CEO and executive director of the Liberty Hill Foundation, a Los Angeles-based foundation that provided seed money and supported a majority of the organizations featured in the report.

The report, entitled “Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing and Civic Engagement, ” was written by NCRP Senior Research Associate Lisa Ranghelli and Research Associate Julia Craig.

The Los Angeles report found that policy advocacy and community organizing also has non-monetary impacts on thousands of underserved Angelenos. Examples include cleaner air, better working conditions, more balanced immigration enforcement, greater student access to college-prep classes and more responsive services.

It recommends that foundations increase grant funding for advocacy and organizing, help educate donors about the benefits of advocacy funding, support effective collaboration among community organizations, collaborate with other grant makers to leverage resources and invest in the infrastructure and organizational capacity of grassroots organizations over sustained periods of time.

"Los Angeles is richer, stronger, healthier and infinitely more democratic because foundations have learned that advocacy, organizing and civic engagement really do make a difference in the lives of everyone," says Stewart Kwoh, executive director of L.A.'s Asian Pacific American Legal Center, one of the 15 organizations surveyed in the study. "When foundations support strategic grassroots initiatives, every resident of Los Angeles benefits."

The Los Angeles research involved a wide range of non-profits engaged in legal advocacy, immigrant rights, substance abuse, better environment, gender discrimination, public transportation, and many others.

Research is currently underway for further reports on areas in the Pacific Northwest and Pennsylvania.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. is a national watchdog, research and advocacy organization that promotes philanthropy that serves the public good, is responsive to people and communities with the least wealth and opportunity, and is held accountable to the highest standards of integrity and openness.

Big Job Awaits Haiti Delegation

By William Fisher

A delegation of human rights experts is preparing to visit Haiti to assess the human rights and aid situation in the earthquake-crippled nation and to urge the international community to follow a series of guidelines they have prepared to help donors’ to “overcome the mistakes of the past.”

The team will be conducting its assessments through interviews and onsite visits both inside and outside of Port-au-Prince, focusing on towns that have received a high volume of internally displaced persons since the earthquake.

The trip, scheduled for March 9th-12th, comes in advance of the March 23 hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where members of the delegation will provide testimony aimed at encouraging the Commission to formally investigate the human rights impacts of post-earthquake aid on behalf of the Organization of American States.

It also precedes the much-anticipated March 31st Haiti Donors’ Conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where future aid to Haiti will be discussed. The groups recently issued a list of recommendations outlining a rights-based approach to aid delivery in advance of that conference, and have a long history of working on aid and human rights issues in Haiti.

The delegation will consist of representatives from prominent human rights organizations -- the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at NYU School of Law and the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) – and Haitian experts from Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Zanmi Lasante/Partners In Health.

The groups plan to conduct what they describe as the first of a series of assessments that will span the coming year.

One member of the delegation, Monika Kalra Varma, executive director of the RFK Center, told IPS, “We are encouraged by the new tone evident in the rhetoric coming from Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton and others. But rhetoric and goodwill go only so far. Forging a real partnership with the Haitian people will require a total change in the culture of delivering aid to Haiti. Yet if that kind of partnership is not achieved, we will have more of the failures we have seen for decades.”

Noting that this is a requirement not only for country donors but also for the large number of international NGOs operating in Haiti, she said the Haitian people “must have an active voice” in what is being planned for their country.

She added, “This is not simply a Port au Prince problem. A million people have fled the capital for safer locations elsewhere, usually with family members. Those people too must be included in the new partnership.”

The groups’ are recommending that, “As the international community reaffirms its commitment to Haiti, it must overcome the mistakes of the past. Accountability, transparency, empowerment, and capacity building should guide all rebuilding efforts.”

“Donor states should use a rights-based approach, targeting aid to build the capacity of the Haitian government to ensure the rights of its people. Donor states should act with full transparency and accountability, making information about their plans and programs available to all, and should work with the Haitian government to set up public monitoring and reporting mechanisms,” the groups say, adding:

“Donor states should coordinate their actions by setting up a Multi-Donor Fund that includes Haitian civil society and community-based organizations as voting members.”

High on the groups’ list of recommendations is building the capacity of the Haitian government to manage its own aid programs.

Donors should “Conduct assistance with the goal of ensuring the government of Haiti has the capacity to guarantee the human rights of all Haitians, including economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.”

“This requires donors to work directly with the Government of Haiti to identify needs and to develop, implement, and monitor programs to provide basic public services, including education and public health, water, and sanitation services,” the groups declare.

The capacity of the Haitian government to budget, disburse funds, and implement projects in a transparent way should be a high priority, the groups say.

They also call for officials of the Haitian Government and representatives of Haitian civil society and community-based organizations to be included as voting members on the governing committee of a Multi-Donor Fund, the groups say.

They are also recommending the creation of a “public web-based database to report and track donor pledges, disbursed funds, recipients, sector areas, and expected outcomes under the aegis of the Multi-Donor Fund.”

Donors must “Ensure that assistance projects are Haitian-led and community-based at every stage, recognizing the importance of including internally displaced persons who may not be integrated into the community.”

They must “Prioritize programs benefiting vulnerable groups, including women and children, the disabled, the elderly, and internally displaced persons.”

Accountability plays a major role in the series of recommendations. The groups propose the establishment and funding of a mechanism “to measure and monitor the outcomes of assistance projects at the community level. All findings should be made public. This mechanism should be administered by the Government of Haiti in partnership with civil society and community-based groups and should include a mechanism for Haitians to register complaints about problems with implementation of projects.”

International aid to Haiti has been problematic for decades before the magnitude 7.5 earthquake flattened the country’s capital city, Port au Prince, on January 12, leaving a million homeless and killing an estimated 200,000.

Aid to Haiti has been marked by frequent interruptions, particularly in assistance from the U.S., for political and ideological reasons. Within Haiti, massive and continuing government and private corruption has siphoned off large chunks of funding and misdirected money to people who didn’t need help.
Development experts say aid to Haiti has been aid to the light-skinned elites of Haiti.