Notes on Civil Liberties for August 25
Here’s some of the latest stories on civil liberties, digital freedom and WikiLeaks. If you have any news tips and would like to contact me, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Truthout‘s Jason Leopold reports a US Army reservist who spent half his life in the military is barred from re-enlisting after speaking to Truthout. The military claims he “leaked” classified information during his interview when he talked about his work as a guard at Guantanamo Bay. Oddly, an Army spokesperson told Truthout if they wanted more information on the reservist, Pfc. Albert Melise, they should “file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in order to obtain additional information about Melise’s status.”
Famous Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, known to be critical of the government, is abducted and beaten by masked gunmen. His hands are broken. He was told this is a “warning.” The gunmen then left him to bleed on the side of a road.
ACLU picks up on two significant news stories on unchecked surveillance. The blog post looks at the story in the New York Times by Charlie Savage that indicates the FBI “opened an eye-popping 82,325 investigations called ‘assessments'” in between March 2009 and March 2011. The other story reports on the CIA providing training and support for the NYPD through the use of a “Demographic Unit” that infiltrates specific ethnic communities (mostly Muslim communities).
Rachel Shabi writes about NATO nations ready to grab up Libya’s high quality crude oil. Shabi draws this appropriate conclusion: “It is exactly this track record – of being a corrosive influence and a self-interested broker – that has made Middle Eastern countries wary of any Western intervention in the tide of revolutions now sweeping the region.”
National Security Archive reports DOD FOIA requests for information on the Bin Laden raid will be handled by Defense Secretary’s office. Why is this significant? DOD components that created documents typically handle FOIA requests. That’s DOD FOIA policy. NSArchive suggests this is happening because DOD doesn’t want any DOD component to improperly release documents it is arguing should be secret.
NYT editorial: Obama administration classified nearly 77 million documents last year. Classification jumped 40 percent. The government claims this is because of “improved reporting,” not because government has the secrecy cancer.
Wired’s David Kravets on a judge’s decision that government is required to get court warrants before obtaining location data from cell phones: The decision is far from the last word. A similar case is up for review by the Supreme Court. Note that the Leahy bill would not require authorities to get warrants for past cell phone data but would require warrants for real-time data.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s office is developing data mining program. The spy agency wants to be able to look at websites, blogs and social media and predict revolutions, humanitarian crises, economic collapses and outbreaks of disease. (Apparently, they can’t decipher the front page of the NYT and so will try FDL.)
*Some of the cables from the latest batch released that are making headlines.
US believes Australia’s strongest local partner in Afghanistan is involved in drug trafficking that fuels the insurgency. The government paid “Matiullah Khan for his armed men to work with Australian special forces.” Cables allege he operates “protection rackets, skims from the [police] payroll, and is involved in the illegal narcotics trade.” According to The Australian, he is alleged to have “tortured and killed his business and tribal rivals, but no foreign government has ever publicly backed the claims or alleged he is involved in the opium poppy trade.”
Diplomat posed as a Korean tourist and visited a Chinese tiger farm. Going undercover was all part of finding out if a tiger breeding center was selling tiger parts. Most concerning was the fact that endangered tiger parts were likely being traded.
Release of WikiLeaks cables have great impact on Indonesia government. Many of the new cables from Indonesia point to corruption in the nation’s justice system. Other cables are highly critical of prosecutors and the police’s ability to fight corruption.
Cheap out-of-date technology is “vastly increasing” the risk of a nuclear accident in China. Cables released show the “secrecy of the bidding process for power plant contracts, the influence of government lobbying, and potential weaknesses in the management and regulatory oversight of China’s fast-expanding nuclear sector,” according to The Guardian. They highlight US lobbying against Chinese plans to use old Westinghouse technology to build reactors.