Is this who we are?

What do you feel about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay?

In 2001, thirty-year-old Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab was in Kabul, running a food import business.

When 9/11 brought war to Kabul, Dhiab, his wife and four children left Afghanistan for Pakistan, hoping for safety. He was picked up by the Pakistani police. They turned him over to the American military, probably for a bounty. He was not charged with any crime. Dhiab was transferred to the prison at Bagram Airbase in June 2002. Two months later he was sent to Guantanamo Bay.

American taxpayers pay $2.7 million per prisoner per year  to keep Guantanmo running. Of the 149 prisoners still there, 79 are cleared for release.

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Photo Source: Global Issues

Dhiab was cleared for release in 2009.

Four years later, he joined other detainees in a hunger strike protesting their incarceration without charge.

Prisoners who are judged to be dangerously underweight are force-fed. If uncooperative, they are “forcibly extracted” from their cells, strapped down, a tube jammed down nose and throat. The procedure often causes choking and vomiting.

One U.S. Navy nurse at Guantanamo has refused to administer force-feedings, calling the practice a “criminal act.”

Guantanamo Bay Facility Continues To Serve As Detention Center For War Detainees

A restraint chair used to force-feed detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images. Source: The Guardian

In 2013, Dhiab  filed a legal challenge to the force-feedings (Dhiab v. Obama).

This month, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rejected a Department of Justice’s bid to hold Dhiab’s hearing in secret, and in a separate decision ruled that videos showing Dhiab being force-fed, be released to the public.

The Department of Justice has appealed.

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U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed the DOJ’s bid to seal Dhiab’s hearing. Image source: Legal Times blog

Dhiab, now 44 and confined to a wheelchair, waits. The Uruguayan government offered to resettle him and five other prisoners, but the transfer is mired in politics, both American and Uruguayan.

His wife, Umm Wa-el writes:

More than a decade has passed since Abu Wa’el was taken from us in the night. I had just given birth to our fourth child; our other children were just toddlers. My husband is a kind man and a superb cook. I miss the dishes he learned to prepare in his father’s restaurant. He is guilty of no crime, has never been charged, and was told by President Obama five years ago that he would be released from Guantanamo.

This year has been one of the hardest to be without him. Last July we were still living in Syria. The civil war forced us to leave for Lebanon, and then to seek shelter in Turkey. I tried to rejoin my family in Jordan but was immediately taken in for questioning at the border and refused entry because of Abu Wa’el’s detention at Guantanamo. The stigma travels. We’ve made it back to Istanbul now. I’m proud that the children are registered in school, and that their teachers tell me that they have already caught up in their studies.

I had to do all that alone. Abu Wa’el is nearing his 13th year at Guantanamo Bay. When I speak to his American lawyers, I can tell that they are shocked and appalled by his case. I’m not so shocked. I was a teacher in Syria. The government locked me up twice in the past just because of Abu Wa’el’s detention, so I know what it means when politics disregards the law.

Excerpted fromThe Obama Administration Must Let the American People See Footage of My Husband Being Force-Fed in Their Name” 7/15/2014

 

 

In a May 23, 2013 speech, President Obama stated: “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? … Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”

President Obama’s legal team is debating now about whether a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” applies to U.S. military prisons overseas. In 2005 President Bush said it did not apply, that torture overseas in prisons or by the CIA was legal. As a senator Barack Obama supported legislation making it clear that cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners was not legal, anywhere. Since becoming President, however, he has never declared his position on the treaty ban.

What do you think? Have you been following Abu Wa’el’s case, or of any of the other Guanatamo prisoners? Seen any of the protests supporting the detainees?

Who’s Who in the ISIL War?

Who and what is ISIL?

Here is Scribbler’s armchair analysis, researched exclusively on the Internet (so it must be true). Opinions are omitted as much as possible. I have them, but there are more than enough opinions on the subject. The aim here is to untangle the religious conflicts.

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Yazidis fleeing from ISIL. Photo credit: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/GETTY IMAGES, “Yazidi under attack again”

There are followers of every religion in the Middle East, plus factions, splinters, sects and denominations, but this war is primarily between two branches of Islam, the Sunnis and the Shiites.

ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is a group of hard-line Sunnis who want to create an Islamic caliphate, that is, a Muslim state, to rival the ancient Muslim empires.

Previous name: ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

Previous name: AQI, or Al Qa’ida in Iraq

85% of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis, and ISIL is Sunni. About 15% of Muslims are Shi’a.  Here is a breakdown showing which branches hold the majority in the Greater Middle Eastern countries:

SUNNI majority             SHIITE majority  (Lebanon – mix of Sunni, Shi’a & others)

Saudi Arabia                        Iraq

Jordan                                  Iran

Syria

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Saudi Arabia and Iran are the largest powers in the region. Saudi Arabia provides support for Sunnis, and Iran for Shiites. Photo Credit: Vice News

IRAQ: Saddam Hussein, a Sunni President in a country with a Shiite majority, was deposed and his government dismantled when the US invaded Iraq. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, was installed. Sunnis aligned with Al Qa’ida of Iraq (AQI), which took control of Sunni areas of Iraq. AQI, however, was cruel and extremist, so moderate Sunnis allied with the Iraqi government and the US, and ran the AQI out of Iraq. AQI joined other fundamentalist groups and became ISIS.

SYRIA. In 2011, Sunni groups rebelled against the Syrian government and Shiite President Bashar al-Assad. The US and Saudi Arabia, among others, sided with rebels. Lebanon, Russia, China and Iran, among others, supported the Assad government. The rebels weren’t very well organized or trained. As the conflict dragged on, Sunni hard liners got more involved, and the fighting devolved into conflicts between competing Islamist groups, as well as between rebels and the government. ISIL emerged as the dominant rebel group, acquired a lot of the supplies and weapons that poured into the region, and took over part of Syria.

IRAQ. From it’s new base in Syria, ISIL attacked and took over part of Iraq, killing minorities, journalists and other heretics along the way.

ISIL’s tactics were too brutal even for Al Qa’ida, who broke off from the group in Feb. 2014.

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ISIL and allies gain control of Fallujah. Photo credit: BBC news

What a stew.

Saudi Arabia’s support of Sunni rebels in Syria helped fund ISIL. Now ISIL presents a threat to Saudi Arabia.

Iran, loyal supporter of Syria, the Shiites and Assad, and not so long ago deemed part of the “Axis of Evil,” is now working with the Iraqis, Kurds, the US and allied forces to fight ISIL.

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Photo Credit: Vox, “Twenty Seven Maps that Explain the Crisis in Iraq” This is roughly how things stand. The Iraqi government controls the red part, Kurds beige, ISIL light brown and Syria dark brown

The Assad government has probably become the lesser of two evils as far as the US is concerned, which is fine with Assad who reportedly hopes the US will attack ISIL in Syria, in effect supporting Assad.  Hezbollah Shiites from Lebanon who sided with Assad in the Syrian rebellion, now find themselves aligned against ISIL, too.

On it goes.

In sum, a war between Sunni & Shi’a, and between religious moderates and extremists, with fighters and countries changing sides, depending on how the wind blows.

Now to tackle the influence of oil money, climate change, politics, economics?

Maybe not.

What do you think? What are the chances that the US, by joining this fight, will help bring about a happy outcome?

 

 

Good news on climate change: Garlic

Good news on climate change? Anyone?

It’s probably progress in the right direction that the issue has started appearing regularly on the front pages. It only took five rounds of being taken to the woodshed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Still, it’s not clear how we’re to fix things, or if that’s even possible. Politicians sure aren’t jumping on the bandwagon. In Oregon’s Voter’s pamphlet for the upcoming election, only one out of 48 candidates even mention the topic. And, on a gorgeous day like today it’s particularly hard to wrap my head around the idea. It’s too big, and too depressing.

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Things look fine. Three Sisters, Bend, Oregon

When good news about climate change surfaces, I glom onto it like cling wrap to a bowl.

For example:

Garlic can cut emissions of methane gas.

When it comes to global warming, methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and methane gas emissions have increased by 150% in the last century. Cows produce methane in their manure, and when they fart and burp. Each cow produces between 30 and 50 gallons of methane a day. With about 1.4 billion cows in the world, that’s a lot of gas.

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Photo source: Yvonne Parijs-Bosman via Queen of the Cows

And garlic? A three-year study at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth demonstrated that cows fed garlic produce 50% less methane than non-garlic eating cows.  “Garlic directly attacks the organisms in the gut that produce methane.” Still unknown: whether garlic affects the flavor of the milk, but we’ll take that as it comes. For now, bravo Aberystwyth scientists. Yay.

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Image source: hotblack via morguefile

Is climate change on your mind? Have you done anything to change your lifestyle or are you politically involved in climate change issues? Do you know of any leaders we can vote for, or innovators who are inventing/promoting solutions?

Sources: Do Cow Farts Actually Contribute to Global Warming?

Garlic May Cut Cow Flatulence

How Garlic May Save the World

Grab Your Growler: Four Things We Don’t want to Know about Recycling

In 1984 the local garbage hauler launched curbside pick-up of recyclables in our town. We were issued a small blue box for glass, big blue bin for co-mingled recyclables, gray bin for yard waste, green bin for garbage. It’s a good feeling to get everything all sorted out.

How are we doing? Official statistics look good. In 1992, 9 million pounds of material was “repurposed.” This past year, 62 million pounds. Yeah!

Wait. What does “repurposed” mean?

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Saint Lucia and her gouged out eyes. Sometimes I’d rather not see, either. Photo: wikicommons

1. Glass: The machines which sort glass are expensive. Our town doesn’t have one.  Best case: glass is crushed and used as drainage material or for roads. Usually it goes to the dump.

2. Plastic:  Most is sent to China for recycling. Last year China announced a new Green Fence policy, and stopped taking all but the cleanest, tidiest bales of plastic, and only certain types.  If it there is a number 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 on the bottom of a container, China won’t take it, so it’s probably getting dumped in a landfill.

3. Cardboard: Has to be clean.  Greasy pizza boxes with cheese stuck on them? To the dump.

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Not to diss the pie chart, or the efforts, but what this shows is a lot of stuff not recovered. Source: The Portland Mercury, “Oregon Knows Its Garbage”

4. Block styrofoam.  This has never been picked up curbside, but for awhile there were places willing to take it. Not now. Everybody’s storage spaces are full of the stuff.

Luckily, several local breweries offer a waste-free option to drown our sorrows with while we contemplate next moves.

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Beer jug, refillable at local breweries.

How goes the recycling efforts in your town?  Time to lose ourselves in the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch?

Veterans Need a New Day

Ninety five years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Germany signed a treaty with the Allies to mark the end of World War I. There were over 37 million casualties.

The Armistice marked hardly more than a pause for breath. Soon after, Japan invaded China, Germany invaded Poland, France and the United Kingdom. Italy teamed up with Germany, conflict spread to Africa and the Soviet Union and Pearl Harbor, and on it went. We’re masters of self-inflicted misery, more like fire ants than the rational beings we’d like to think ourselves. Put up your dukes.

November 11th: remember the War to End All Wars and try to keep a straight face.

Veterans deserve a day of their own. If we don’t want to clutter the calendar with more federal holidays, there’s a good candidate coming up. The ode to pilgrims is getting stale.

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Let’s save the moments of silence for the day when we’re feasting with our families. Let’s leave flowers on the graves when it’s darker and colder, use Thanksgiving to thank the soldiers who served and continue to serve, and November 11 to remember the folly of fooling ourselves that wars end war.

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Democracy at work: Score One for the Seed Farmers

Canola ban clears Legislature

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I’m flag waving today because round 1 in the Willamette Valley canola battle went to the specialty seed farmers, a group that consists largely of smaller-scale operations.  Grass roots politics work!

Canola is an all right crop — just don’t bring it here. Businesses from all over the world order Willamette valley seeds, many varieties of which are organic. Canola was banned in a 3.6 million acre portion of the valley because it cross-breeds with other plants in the same genus (mustard, cabbage, kohlrabi, turnips, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale and more),  and is susceptible to, and spreads, disease and pests.  Also, 95% of it is genetically modified, although this wasn’t part of the official fight against it.  The other problems were enough.

I wrote earlier (Rapeseed, Gas vs. Grass) about an underhanded attempt by the Oregon Farm Bureau (good friends of Dow Chemical, Syngenta and Monsanto) and the Department of Agriculture to pass an under-the-wire “temporary exception” to the ban on canola.  Temporary, of course, would haven meant an opportunity for canola to spread and become permanent.

Thanks to farmers who showed up for hearings, organizations like the Friends of Family Farmers who spread the word, and volunteers who wrote to legislators and attended rallies, the Oregon State Legislature just banned canola in the valley until 2019, and allocated money to study the effects of canola on other crops.

A sweet victory for Oregon seed farmers, and for those of us who fear we can’t make a difference. We can.

Material Support — Not For the Likes of Me

The other day friends and I were having lunch, when we got into a lively and heated discussion about state budgets, public pension funding and unions. Afterwards, we hugged and one friend said, “I’m glad we live in a country where we can talk about what we believe and nobody will throw us in jail!”

That’s probably true for us, white, flag-waving, not very political women with Protestant-sounding names.

What if your views don’t line up with the State Department’s?

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Sami Al-Airan. U of Florida professor and American citizen arrested in 2003, accused of material support of terrorists. He spent 28 months in solitary confinement, before he was tried before a grand jury, which acquitted him on the serious charges, and deadlocked on the minor charges. Al-Arian is still under house arrest and in legal limbo. Ironically, he campaigned for G.W. Bush in 2000 because of Bush’s opposition to the use of secret evidence. Image source.

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Jess Sundin. Anti-war activist and advocate for workers and civil rights in Columbia, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Her home was one of 9 in Minnesota and Chicago targeted in simultaneous raids in 2010. FBI agents searched her house in front of her 6 year old daughter, carted away “truckloads” of personal belongings. Sundin and the others subject to the raids refused to testify before a grand jury.  Image source

In 2010, in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law, the Supreme Court for the first time, ruled that free speech in the form of any kind of advocacy for a black-listed group, is a crime; that is, it is against the law to provide “material support” to any group that the State Department designates a terrorist organization. Material support includes humanitarian aid, advice, “services,” “political advocacy,” and “coordination.”  Suspected violators are subject to raids on their homes, “special administrative measures” which is a nice way of saying solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time without trial, time in a “super-max” prison or a notorious “communications management unit,” facilities designed to isolate  violent criminals.

Don’t worry if you’re a judge, T.V. commentator, wealthy businessman, former mayor of New York, former governor of New Jersey or former White House advisor. The rule doesn’t to apply to you.

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Rudy Guiliani, just to the left Maryam Rajavi, the woman in yellow. And look! John Bolton, 3rd to her right. This was taken at a rally to support the Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a group the State Department designates a terrorist organization. Politicians, judges, scholars and TV commentators have accepted speaking fees from the group. Indictments and early morning raids forthcoming? Don’t bet on it. Image source.

If, however, you are an ordinary person who supports workers in Columbia, if you’re a Muslim, or if you send money to a Palestinian aid group, or speak out against wars in the Middle East, or publicly oppose NSA surveillance of your phone calls and e-mails, beware.

Here’s the story of former NSA computer program designer William Binney, when he  raised his head a little too far in protest of NSA surveillance.  

Oh Oregon, My Oregon! Marijuana moves north

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The Oregon Pioneer (on top of the State Capital building). My kind of guy.

Oregon voters! Where were you?  Gone the pioneer spirit?  Gone the 1970’s sheen from being the first to charge a deposit on bottles and cans? Washington State beat us to the punch and legalized marijuana.

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Image source: reason.com

We take the lead on this kind of thing.  Remember?

  • First to institute gas taxes to pay for roads,
  • First to declare all beaches in the state open to the public,
  • First to require land use planning by cities.
  • We pioneered the Oregon Health Plan to cover uninsured people,
  • We were the first to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill,
  • First to make elections vote-by-mail,
  • First to make cold medicines (aka methamphetamine ingredients) prescription drugs.

Marijuana? Pah. We’ve always been out front in the battle to empty jails of tokers. We were first to decriminalize it, and second (after California) to legalize medical marijuana. Despite handwringing and predictions of doom, the world did not end. We’re royalty when it comes to states that pass scary, don’t-you-dare legislation. Or at least we were …

How could we let Washington (and Colorado!) take away the scepter?

This calls for a little motivation.  Hmmm.  I know! Brush off the Oregon State Song, to remind us what kind of stock we’re made of:

Oregon, My Oregon

Land of the Empire Builders, Land of the Golden West;
Conquered and held by free men, Fairest and the best.
On-ward and upward ever, Forward and on, and on;
Hail to thee, Land of the Heroes, My Oregon.

Land of the rose and sunshine, Land of the summer’s breeze;
Laden with health and vigor, Fresh from the western seas.
Blest by the blood of martyrs, Land of the setting sun;
Hail to thee, Land of Promise, My Oregon.

If that didn’t rouse the blood, here’s an inspiring rendition:

 

Never mind the part about ‘land of sunshine.’  We don’t need sunshine to be brave anyway.  Just put on the galoshes and macintosh, and head down to the jail the next time a batch of violent criminals is let loose because the county has run out of money.

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Mugshot of Christopher Weaver who robbed a bank 55 minutes after being released from jail. No way he had time to smoke pot first. Image source: HLN

You can’t make something illegal that grows like a weed.  Well OK, we did make it illegal, and KEPT it illegal (ahem), but it’s still the biggest industry in the state. You call that success? Get the smokers back to their bongs and out from behind bars so there is room for rapists, robbers and murderers.

I’m not saying marijuana is benign.  It’s not.  It’s a drug, like alcohol and nicotine are drugs.  I’m not saying I’m a marijuana fan, either (tried it in college.  YELCH!), but the state has better things to do than chase after potheads and people with cancer, and we Oregonians have a reputation to uphold.

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Kind of pretty. Might make a nice ground cover.

My Country Tis of Thee

Talking of patriotism, what humbug it is; it is a word which always commemorates a robbery. There isn’t a foot of land in the world which doesn’t represent the ousting and re-ousting of a long line of successive owners.
     – Mark Twain

Who’s your favorite patriot?

It’s great to love your country (I do), but Patriotism, man, what a loaded word. Remember the flap about whether or not then-candidate Barack Obama lacked patriotic spirit because he didn’t have a flag pin on his lapel?  Forevermore, we Americans will see flag pins on Presidents’ and Presidential candidates’ lapels!

Rah rah!   Remember when true patriots only bought cars made in America?  Kind of a shock when it came out that many parts under the hoods of our beloved American cars came from China.  Remember Freedom Fries, when those naughty French refused to support the Iraq War in 2003?  Representative Walter Ney led the charge to rename French Fries and French Toast, Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast, on the menus in the Congressional cafeterias.  In 2006, the names were quietly changed back, and Walter Ney pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.  Some patriot.

So, here’s my nomination for True Patriot.  Son of a German immigrant brew-meister who was ridiculed by his peers during World War I because of his heritage. To prove his love of country, he joined the Boy Scouts and became a top salesman of Liberty Bonds.  When former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt came to town to award medals to the top ten bond sellers — oops — there were only nine medals, and none for the son of the German immigrant, who was hustled off the stage.  He suffered from a fear of public speaking for the rest of his life.

His father was a member of the Park Board in his hometown of Springfield MA, and while tagging along at the local zoo, he started a lifelong love of doodling animals, usually in an exaggerated fashion.  He went on to squeak through Dartmouth and drop out of Oxford, to write ads for a pesticide company, all the while hoping to make a living drawing zany creatures.  In 1937 while on a ship to Europe, he made up a limerick to go with the sound of the engines, that eventually became his first children’s book, To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street. It was rejected 27 times by publishers who said they only wanted stories with morals, but finally picked up by a publisher, and the rest is history.  He continued to write imaginatively and heroically, for the rest of his life.  Oh The Places You’ll Go is one of the top gifts to graduates, and his protest against pollution, The Lorax, both raises hackles and inspires budding environmentalists to this day.  We miss you Dr. Suess.

Patriotism isn’t wearing a symbol or singing a song at a baseball game.  It’s working to give back to your country as much as it has given you, and in the end, helping the country give back to the world as much as it’s given us.

Who would you nominate for the honorable title of Patriot?

Written for the great GBE 2: Blog OnWEEK #76 (10-28-12 to 11-3-12): Patriotism.  Join us!  

The Thin Thread: William Binney and the NSA

In July, 2007, F.B.I. agents banged on William Binney’s door, pushed his son out of the way and demanded to know who leaked confidential information about U.S. surveillance programs to the New York Times.  Mr. Binney was just stepping out of the shower. “They went right upstairs to the bathroom and held guns on me and my wife, right between the eyes.” William Binney from “The Secret Sharer,” The New Yorker, 5/23/11 Mr. Binney was allowed to put his clothes on and they all went onto his back porch for a chat.

Here he is, the culprit. Photo NYT/Laura Poitras

What was that all about? Government spying. Think your phone calls are private?  Your electronic billing? There is a flood of fantastical material on the Internet, in books and magazines about Big Brother spying on us.  It’s hard to pick out what to be concerned about, and tempting to tune the whole thing out. What can an ordinary citizen do? Hope for the best and go back to updating Facebook?  Don’t tune out.  Ordinary citizens are about to get a peek behind the curtain, thanks in part to Mr. Binney and a few other brave whistle blowers.

William Binney worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) for 36 years, and was one of the best code breakers and mathematicians the NSA had.  He supervised 6000 employees who analyzed intelligence, and in the years just before 9/11 helped design a program to streamline data, making it easier to pick out communications between bad guys.  That was the idea anyway, to ferret out bad guys.

In order to comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which prohibits spying on citizens, Binney’s program encrypted data that originated in the U.S.  Unless a warrant was obtained, communications from from ordinary citizens, phone calls, e-mails, bills, etc., was protected.  Binney’s program was code-named ThinThread. It cost about $3 million.

At first (this was pre-9/11 after all), NSA worried that ThinThread, despite its protections, was too invasive of privacy. Agency officials were also concerned that it wouldn’t work on a large scale (although tests indicated it would); so, in 2002 the agency signed a $280 million agreement with defense contractors to develop another program to do the same thing.  The project was code-named Trailblazer.

In 2006 this new coding program, operation Trailblazer, was declared a flop and abandoned. It cost $1.2 billion.

Then, along came 9/11, putting the fear of God into the Bush Administration, and the might of millions of dollars from taxpayers willing to put up with anything to prevent another such horror. The NSA got the go-ahead to spy on everyone, everywhere, including U.S. citizens, without a warrant. They created an agency, called it (George Orwell would be proud) Total Information Awareness.

Binney is pretty sure the NSA revamped the ThinThread program, cut out the encryption that protected U.S. citizens, and then used the raw technology to mine data, domestic and foreign, like never before.   Private communications companies AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth got in on the act, too, and secretly opened the electronic records of U.S. citizens to the government.  Against the law, but this was an emergency, right?

Several people along the way tried to warn the Bush administration, the Supreme Court and the NSA that spying on people without a warrant is a violation of the privacy laws, but most of our leadership, it appears, was swept along in the drama and fear of the moment.

Alarmed, Binney quit his job.

The NSA barreled on, building one big “intercept center” after another as part of a monumental spying project dubbed “Stellar Wind.”  The largest of these facilities, the “Utah Data Center,” is still under construction in Bluffdale Utah.  When completed, the center will have a 10-to-the-24th yottabyte storage capacity.  (A yottabyte, reportedly named for the Star Wars character, means a unit of information equal to one quadrillion gigabytes, so we’re talking a quadrillion, quadrillion gigabytes.)  This center is scheduled for completion in Sept. 2013. Confused? Here’s a timeline:

  • Shortly after 9/11: “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) project established by the Bush Administration
  • 2002 Binney and two others signed a private complaint with the Department of Defense Inspector General alleging that the NSA was wasting money on Trailblazer because an existing, less expensive prototype already existed (ThinThread). A three year investigation ensued. The final report was heavily classified. When a public report was issued, 90% of it was redacted. The complaint did not go unnoticed however. See 2006, below.
  • 2003 Congress voted to dismantle Total Information Awareness because it violates privacy rules.
  • 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled that the NSA’s spying on citizens without a warrant was illegal.  The Bush administration tried to get him to change his mind a couple of days later when he was in the hospital with pancreatitis, but to no avail. Bush reauthorized the program anyway.

    March, 2004, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales paid a late night visit to John Ashcroft’s hospital room

  • 2006, the New York Times published an article reporting that the government was illegally wiretapping citizens.  The Bush Adminstration was outraged about the leak, and initiated an investigation to find the source. The F.B.I. was brought in to help.

That’s how the F.B.I. ended up at Binney’s house, and the homes of the two others who signed the 2002 complaint. It was payback time. Although Binney and the cosigners did not spill the beans to the New York Times, and apparently there was no evidence that they did, they had tried to blow the whistle on NSA waste, fraud and abuse, and if you do that, the FBI might just show up at your shower door and put a gun to your head.

Binney remembers telling the agents that if they were looking for criminal conspiracy, they should go after President Bush and NSA chief Michael Hayden for illegally wiretapping U.S. citizens.  One of the agents said that kind of thing doesn’t happen in America. Binney replied, “Oh really?”

  • 2008, Congress amended FISA to expand NSA’s authority to wiretap without warrants.

Many hoped that President Obama would put a stop to warrantless wiretapping. He has not. He has also gone after whistle blowers as aggressively as Bush did.

President Obama and his Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper

Still, the issue is winding its way through the system at its own patient pace.  At the end of this month, the Supreme Court will consider whether government has the authority to spy without a warrant on US citizens.  OK, technically, the Supreme Court is considering whether the parties who brought suit have the right to challenge the government’s spying, but  the real issue is the spying itself.  See Clapper v. Amnesty International U.S.A. In December, F.I.S.A. is due for renewal, and the amendments allowing warrantless wiretapping will be reconsidered. And Mr. Binney?  He’s retired and still living near the NSA headquarters, not far from Baltimore.  He suffers from diabetes and has lost a leg to the disease, but he decided last year to speak out publicly.  He says, the issue is “too serious not to talk about.”  On the use of his code to spy on citizens he says, “I should apologize to the American people. It’s violated everyone’s rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world.” OK, I know the new 007 movie is due out this month, but hey, we’ve got our own national cloak and dagger going on, and it debuts at the Supreme court, just a week later.  Get out your popcorn.

Watch for Laura Poitras’ new film due out in 2013 which features Mr. Binney’s story.  Poitras recently received the MacArthur Genius award for her trilogy of films about American, post-9/11.