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First Amendment, Spying and Secrecy: Why Accountability Matters (ACLU MA Conference 2009)

Workshop featuring
Michael (Wes) Macleod-Ball (see previous post)
Christopher Pyle, Professor of Politics at Mt. Holyoke College
and Moderator Susan Flannery, Director of Libraries for the City of Cambridge

First amendment gives us some of our most important rights. General principles are accepted but people don't always know their rights or legal ramifications. Battleground for the nation of what our values area. Challenges against the first amendment have been done by motivated groups and individuals.

Speaking as a former intelligence officer. NBC Night Line news came with secret documents about TALON and asked for comparison to 1970 reports. TALON was counter intelligence field activity started in 2003 with 1000 people to monitor threats against US military. Air Force used to track suspicious behavior around base reporting issue. Reports were garbage, didn't identify a single terrorist. It was like stirring the entrails of a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Raging Grannies, anti-war signing group, was under surveillance. Never can tell when they would be infiltrated by a terrorist group.

Why are they collecting this data? Likelihood of civil disturbances that the military might need to quell. 1960 chart tracked anti-war protests to predict urban riots. No correlation between unrest on campuses and in inner cities. Never predicted a riot. Now not only military but also department of homeland security. Really measuring paranoia of military.

When Christopher exposed the military surveillance he would have been denounced if it has any real value. Documents displayed were classified secrets. Contents of vacuum cleaner was worthless. Both shutdown.

They are so inept, can it do any harm? Yes. Wastes resources instead of spending it on body army. Essential apparatus of a police state. Information in the network is used to compile watch lists. More names than possible terrorists. Information is mostly erroneous or out of date. No sourcing of information making it hard to track validity.

Operation Trailblazer with no judicial warrant. Communication interception and algorithm for suspicious patterns. Generated lots of leads that FBI and CIA had to follow-up that were worthless. 1.2 billion dollars wasted. Mostly wasted on corporations instead of on staff. Making consultants rich at taxpayers expense.

NSA telephone matching network. Tracing leakers to known reporters.

State fusion center is designed to combine information from multiple sources. Want us to belief that collecting and connecting dots will reveal hidden information. Too many dots muddy the page. 16 national security agencies and many state facilities. Disincentive to share information as sharing that would expose information and invite meddling. New president is a fan of dot collection. Not only overloads system, wastes time and money, distraction.


Is accountability really necessary? Accountability isn't just Bush administration, some issues started before then. Can't ignore the past, otherwise we will repeat it. Only time we won't look back is on security issues, always look back on health care, etc.

Information that has been collected but rejected by DOJ is still maintained by FBI. NSL about 50,000 per year. Increasingly targeted at US persons. FISA board rejected request that then just became an NSL, justification was that they "disagreed with the court".

Fusion center emblematic of surveillance society we are moving to. Don't know how many there are. Obama administration hasn't clearly said if they will revoke fusion center issues.

Restoration: investigate commission, congressional select committee, routine congressional oversight, DOJ investigation, citizen's panel (doesn't have subpoena authority). Pushing for congressional select committee. Dedicated resources, comprehensive with new eyes, transparency, de-emphasize political retribution.

Scope: unwarranted surveillance, torture, rendition, destruction of evidence, etc.

"Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." said Benjamin Franklin.

Q: Homeland security department security chief, "Oh don't worry, we only get information from the federal government, we don't give anything back". Is there truth in that?
Christopher: Enormous variability between agencies. Documents suggest a two way street. Want newsletter, chat line, really want ability to swap information. Northern command has 30 million dollar building housing 290 intelligence analysts reading domestic intelligence. Culture of these groups isn't politically sophisticated, they divide it into us versus them. Assign us a security rating. Think people have certain dispositions.
Wes: Need lines of communication with organizational chart and rules.

Q: Non governmental lawsuit on behalf of people who had been tortured? Maybe civil versus criminal.
Wes: As a litigator I make a good lobbyist. State secret policy has prevented previous cases.
Christopher: Courts won't introduce testimony due to state secrets. Intimidating and free speech issues. Must show how their surveillance led to your future harm.

Q: Does federal government have the ability to demand surveillance from municipalities?
Wes: Default situation must be that there is a creditable reason to collect the information unless there is an exception.
Christopher: Used to talk about CONUS (Continental US) and SPOT (six paragraph report) reports. Example was what does the military need to know about a city. Started by asking when has the military gone into such places. Example in 1967 10,000 troops went into Detroit without any maps. Gather information about height of bridges, number of urinals, etc. Instead really wanted to collect persons active in civil disturbances to create a round up list. Who the military might encounter that would protest their presence. Governors no longer must give permission for federal government to go into their cities. Grounds for intervention can include the vague "or other crisis".

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