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Terrorism Prosecutions Often An Illusion

Originally posted by Human Rights Watch on 7/21/14

Investigations, Trials of American Muslims Rife with Abuse

Image of FBI agents taking Cromitie to prison

James Cromitie, center, is escorted from Federal Plaza, headquarters of the FBI in New York, by federal agents and police, early Thursday, May 21, 2009. Cromitie and three other men were arrested Wednesday night in what the authorities said was a plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y. (Michael Appleton/The New York Times)

(Washington, DC) –The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.

The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.

“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer… Continue reading

Government agents ‘directly involved’ in most high-profile US terror plots

Originally published at the Guardian by Spencer Ackerman on 7/21/2014

Nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the “direct involvement” of government agents or informants, a new report says.

FBISome of the controversial “sting” operations “were proposed or led by informants”, bordering on entrapment by law enforcement. Yet the courtroom obstacles to proving entrapment are significant, one of the reasons the stings persist.

The lengthy report, released on Monday by Human Rights Watch, raises questions about the US criminal justice system’s ability to respect civil rights and due process in post-9/11 terrorism cases. It portrays a system that features not just the sting operations but secret evidence, anonymous juries, extensive pretrial detentions and convictions significantly removed from actual plots.

“In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act,” the report alleges.

Out of the 494 cases related to terrorism the US has tried since 9/11, the plurality of convictions – 18% overall – are not for thwarted plots but for “material support” charges, a broad category expanded further by the 2001 Patriot Act that permits prosecutors to pursue charges with tenuous connections to a terrorist act or group.

In one such incident, the initial basis for a material-support case alleging a man provided “military gear” to al-Qaida turned out to be waterproof socks in his luggage.

Several cases featured years-long solitary confinement for… Continue reading

The Newburgh Sting

On May 20, 2009, four men from the impoverished and largely African-American city of Newburgh, NY, Newburgh Stingwere apprehended for an alleged terror plot. They had no history of violence or terrorist ties, but had been drawn by a Pakistani FBI informant into a carefully orchestrated scheme to bomb Jewish synagogues in a wealthy New York City suburb and fire Stinger missiles at U.S. military supply planes. Their dramatic arrest, complete with armored cars, a SWAT team and FBI aircraft, played out under the gaze of major TV outlets, ultimately resulting in 25-year prison sentences for the “Newburgh Four.”

Amidst the media frenzy surrounding the case, political figures extolled the outcome as a victory in the “war on terror” and a “textbook example of how a major investigation should be conducted,” though others believed the four men were victims of FBI entrapment. THE NEWBURGH STING delves deeply into this case — one of many cases across the country where people have been allegedly drawn into a plot with extreme consequences.

The Imam and assistant Imam of Mesjid al-Ikhlas, Newburgh mosque, recall their first encounters with Shahed Hussain – an undercover informant sent to Newburgh by the FBI in 2008 on a mission to find domestic terrorists. Representing himself as a businessman, Hussain drove expensive cars and made inflammatory statements about newburghwomen and jihad. Suspicious, the Imams told a few of their congregants to stay away from Hussain, but one man, James Cromitie, bought into his story. Cromitie, a low-level drug dealer… Continue reading

US pushing local cops to stay mum on surveillance

Originally published at AP by Jack Gillum and Eileen Sullivan on 6/12/2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods, The Associated Press has learned.

Image of Berkshire Manor neighborhoodCiting security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology. This has resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose any about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment.

Federal involvement in local open records proceedings is unusual. It comes at a time when President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance and called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified federal surveillance programs.

One well-known type of this surveillance equipment is known as a Stingray, an innovative way for law enforcement to track cellphones used by suspects and gather evidence. The equipment tricks cellphones into identifying some of their owners’ account information, like a unique subscriber number, and transmitting data to police as if it were a phone company’s tower. That allows police to obtain cellphone information without having to ask for help from service providers, such as Verizon or AT&T, and can locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message.

But without more details about how the technology works and under what circumstances… Continue reading

Fisa court grants extension of licence for bulk collection of US phone records

Originally published at The Guardian by Dan Roberts on 6/20/14

Reauthorisation is fifth since the Guardian revealed existence of Section 215 telephony metadata program in June last year.

The Fisa court has granted a 90-day extension of the licence that allows the NSA to collect metadata.

NSA ShieldUS intelligence agencies have made a fifth attempt to extend their bulk collection of American telephone records – more than a year after the controversial practice was first revealed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Despite repeated calls from Congress and President Obama for the mass gathering of private US phone records to be banned, a court has approved the request in secret, allowing the NSA to continue collecting metadata until 12 September 2014.

In a joint statement released late on Friday afternoon, the justice department and director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said it was necessary to continue seeking such legal extensions because the Congressional reform process supported by Obama was not yet complete.

“Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program,” said the joint statement.

The 90-day blanket licence granted by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or Fisa court, is the fifth such extension that has been requested, and granted, since the Guardian first revealed the existence of the Section 215 program on 5 June 2013.

Similar 90-day reauthorisations were subsequently… Continue reading

White House more involved in CIA-Senate dispute

Originally posted By Stephanie Condon at CBS News on March 13, 2014

The White House has played a larger role in the serious dispute between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over an ongoing investigation, according to reports.

President Obama’s team has been withholding about 9,400 documents that the Intelligence Committee requested as part of its review of the CIA’s now-defunct detention and interrogation program, McClatchy reports. Since 2009, the White House has ignored or rejected multiple requests from the committee to review the documents.

Mr. Obama said Wednesday he supports the committee’s efforts. “We have worked with the Senate committee so that the report that they are putting forward is well-informed, and what I’ve said is that I am absolutely committed to declassifying that report as soon as the report is completed,” he said.

The White House said in a statement to McClatchy that it withheld “a small percentage” of the 6.2 million pages of documents provided to the committee “because they raise executive branch confidentiality interests.” The White House added it has worked closely with the committee “to ensure access to the information necessary to review the CIA’s former program.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — who blew the lid open on the clash between the committee and the CIA on the Senate floor on Tuesday — has reportedly… Continue reading

British Ex-Spy Launches Fund to Support Whistleblowers Like Snowden

Originally published at WIRED by John Borland on 12/29/13

HAMBURG – A new foundation to support whistleblowers is being launched by former British intelligence agent Annie Machon, whose resignation and revelations about U.K. spying activities in the 1990s sparked controversy echoing this year’s NSA news.

Speaking at the Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) here, Machon said the foundation would be called the Courage Fund to Protect Journalistic Sources.

Photo of Annie Machan from Revealing the Truth Conference

Former MI-5 agent and whistleblower Annie Machan

“Crucially, we want to encourage other whistleblowers to come forward,” she said. “It is a very frightening and lonely process to go through. We need to show that they can not only survive the process, but even flourish.”

Machon’s experience in the 1990s in some senses prefigured what sources such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are going through today.

An intelligence officer with the British MI5 service for six years, she and her partner resigned in 1997 and made public a number of allegations about secret and potentially criminal activities.

Among these, they alleged that intelligence services had been keeping secret files on government ministers, had illegally tapped phones, had failed to stop Irish Republican Army bombs and subsequently lied about their actions, that people known to be innocent had been convicted of bombing crimes, and – most explosively – that MI6 had sought to have Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi assassinated.

She and her partner were forced on the run in Europe for the next year, and her partner ultimately went to prison twice for… Continue reading

The Terrorism That Torture Didn’t Stop

Originally published at the Nation by Katherine Hawkins on 11/7/13

Image of Torture and the War on Terror

Torture and the War on Terror by Mike Licht @ NotionsCapital.com

Over four years after President Obama promised to “look forward, not backward” regarding the CIA’s brutal treatment of captives under the Bush administration, the issue has not gone away. The torture debate may fade from the headlines for weeks or months at a time, but it al

ways come back. Last year the trigger was the release of Zero Dark Thirty. A few weeks ago, it was Abu Anas al-Libi’s capture, shipboard interrogation and transfer to the United States for trial. Later this year, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) will vote on whether to begin declassification of its 6,000-page report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects.

Often, debates about torture focuses on whether it leads to high-profile counterterrorism successes: the killing of Osama bin Laden, the capture of high-level suspects like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the disruption of terrorist plots against Los Angeles or London. The public evidence suggests—and according to Democratic senators, the SSCI report will definitively prove—that defenders of “enhanced interrogation” have greatly exaggerated the role that torture played in these events.

In all the debates about whether torture “worked,” though, there is another part of the record that is almost always forgotten: the attacks that torture did not prevent. There are no documented cases of “ticking time bombs” being defused by torture. But there are Al Qaeda plots that were not stopped,… Continue reading

Revealed: NSA pushed 9/11 as key ‘sound bite’ to justify surveillance

Originally published at Aljazeera America by Jason Leopold on 10/30/13

The National Security Agency advised its officials to cite the 9/11 attacks as justification for its mass surveillance activities, according to a master list of NSA talking points.

The document, obtained by Al Jazeera through a Freedom of Information Act request, contains talking points and suggested statements for NSA officials (PDF) responding to the fallout from media revelations that originated with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Invoking the events of 9/11 to justify the controversial NSA programs, which have caused major diplomatic fallout around the world, was the top item on the talking points that agency officials were encouraged to use.

Under the subheading “Sound Bites That Resonate,” the document suggests the statement “I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”

NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander used a slightly different version of that statement when he testified before Congress on June 18 in defense of the agency’s surveillance programs.

Asked to comment on the document, NSA media representative Vanee M. Vines pointed Al Jazeera to Alexander’s congressional testimony on Tuesday, and said the agency had no further comment. In keeping with the themes listed in the talking points, the NSA head told legislators that “it is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is… Continue reading

FBI calls half of populace with 9/11 doubts potential terrorists

Posted Sep 19, 2013 by Ralph Lopez

Photo of FBI Special Agent

A special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) New York Field Office Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team standing on the rooftop of a skyscraper in Downtown Manhattan

The FBI is instructing local police departments and “communities against terrorism” to consider anyone who harbors “conspiracy theories” about 9/11 to be a potential terrorist, in a circular released to local police departments.

The memo thus adds 9/11-official-story skeptics to a growing list of targets described by federal law enforcement to be security threats, such as those who express “libertarian philosophies,” “Second Amendment-oriented views,” interest in “self-sufficiency,” “fears of Big Brother or big government,” and “Declarations of Constitutional rights and civil liberties.”

A newly released national poll shows that 48 percent of Americans either have some doubts about the official account of 9/11, or do not believe it at all.

The FBI circular entitled “Potential Indicators of Terrorist Activities Related to Sleepers” says that people who should be ‘considered suspicious’ of possible involvement in “terrorist activity” include those who hold the “attitude” described as ” Conspiracy theories about Westerners.” The circular continues: “e.g. (sic) the CIA arranged for 9/11 to legitimize the invasion of foreign lands.”

Screenshot of FBI Circular

Section of FBI circular to local police, “Potential Indicators of Terrorist Activities Related to Sleepers.”

“Sleepers” refers to “sleeper cells,” in FBI jargon, which are terrorists awaiting orders to be activated into terrorist activity.

In 1998 it was declassified by the Pentagon that the Joint Chiefs of… Continue reading

The Center Cannot Hold

By Wendy McElroy

TheDollarVigilante.com

Two events recalled a passage from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming”:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world….
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats (1865-1939) wrote “The Second Coming” in 1919 to describe the moral devastation of post-WWI Europe. The “mere anarchy” is not the laissez-faire version of contract and consent between free individuals which produces good will and prosperity. The “mere anarchy” is chaos, a Hobbesian society of all-against-all that comes in the wake of sustained violence. It is a society that guts decency, loots productivity, and rewards the worst within men.

Yeats could be describing America today. Or, at least, the America that might well be tomorrow. The center cannot hold.

The first event was a quiet one; as of yet, it is an event on paper only. On May 13th, 2013, a new rule went into effect. The US Code “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” was altered by the Department of Defense to read:

“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances because:

(1) Such activities are necessary to prevent significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property and are necessary to restore governmental function and… Continue reading

FISA Surveillance Applications Rose Slightly in 2012

“During calendar year 2012, the Government made 1,856 applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and/or physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes.”

That somewhat opaque statistic was disclosed in the Justice Department’s latest annual report to Congress on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, filed on Tuesday. As is usually the case, none of the requests for electronic surveillance were denied by the Court.

No matter how it is sliced and diced, the newly disclosed number of applications does not yield much substance. It means that the government submitted an average of 5 requests per day last year for intelligence surveillance or physical search. It is about 5% higher than the number of applications the year before (1,745), but quite a bit lower than the figure from 2007 (2,371).

The number of applications does not correspond directly to the number of targets, since multiple applications may be submitted in the course of an individual investigation. Nor is the outcome of the surveillance or search activity indicated in a way that would tend to validate or invalidate the authorization after the fact.

In any case, the FISA Court did not deny any of the government’s requests for authority to conduct electronic surveillance in whole or in part, the report said, although unspecified modifications were made to 40 proposed orders. The report does not say whether or not any requests for physical search were disapproved or modified.

The government also made 212 applications for access to business… Continue reading

TSA’s Grip on internal Travel is Tightening

Image of TSA uniformby Wendy McElroy
The Dollar Vigilante

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is tightening its grip on domestic travel. I don’t mean the random, unpredictable security checks at bus, subway and train stations which already exist. I mean a coordinated and systematic police control of internal travel within America. Groundwork is being laid.

APPLICATION TO MAKE U.S. INTO AN AIRPORT SCREENING ZONE

Image of TSA agent putting on glovesThe application was tucked away on page 71431 of Volume 77, Number 231 of the Federal Register (November 30). It was surrounded by soporific references to forwarding “the new Information Collection Request (ICR) abstracted below to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).”

The application for funding from the TSA constitutes a preliminary step toward systematically expanding TSA‘s authority from airports to highways and almost every other means of public travel. The expansion would erase one of the last remaining differences between the US and a total police state; namely, the ability to travel internally without being under police surveillance. The total police state you experience at airports wants to spill into roads and bus stops, to subways and trains. Or, rather, the TSA wants to solidify and spread the fledgling and erratic presence it already has.

The official request reads, “TSA‘s Highway BASE program [Baseline Assessment for Security Enhancement] seeks to establish the current state of security gaps and implemented countermeasures throughout the highway mode of transportation by posing questions to… Continue reading

Massive New Surveillance Program Uncovered by Wall Street Journal

by Ryan Gallagher
Slate.com

When a former senior White House official describes a nationwide surveillance effort as “breathtaking,” you know civil liberties activists are preparing for a fight.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the little-known National Counterterrorism Center, based in an unmarked building in McLean, Va., has been granted sweeping new authority to store and monitor massive datasets about innocent Americans.

After internal wrangling over privacy and civil liberties issues, the Justice Department reportedly signed off on controversial new guidelines earlier this year. The guidelines allow the NCTC, for the first time, to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, using “predictive pattern-matching,” to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. The data the counterterrorism center has access to, according to the Journal, includes “entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others.”

Notably, the Journal reports that these changes also allow databases about U.S. civilians to be handed over to foreign governments for analysis, presumably so that they too can attempt to determine future criminal actions. The Department of Homeland Security’s former chief privacy officer said that it represents a “sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public.”

The snooping effort, which officials say is subject to “rigorous oversight,” is reminiscent of the so-called Total Information Awareness initiative, dreamt up in the aftermath of 9/11 by the Pentagon’s research unit DARPA. The aim of the TIA initiative was essentially to create… Continue reading

Mother of American Torture Victim José Padilla Brings Case Before International Human Rights Tribunal

U.S. Courts Have Denied Recourse
By ACLU
December 11, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic today filed a petition against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) for the unlawful detention and torture of José Padilla, a U.S. citizen, whom the United States detained and interrogated for four years.

The petition was filed by Padilla’s mother, Estella Lebron, on her own and on her son’s behalf. Padilla and Lebron had previously filed federal lawsuits – since dismissed – against current and former government officials for their roles in Padilla’s torture and other abuse.

The petition is an international complaint asking the IACHR, which is an independent human rights body of the Organization of American States, to conduct a full investigation into the human rights violations suffered by Padilla; to find that his mistreatment violated the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; and to recommend that the United States publicly acknowledge the violations and apologize for its unlawful conduct.

“The U.S. justice system denied a day in court to a U.S. citizen who was arrested and then tortured on U.S. soil by his own government,” said Steven Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. “The U.S. has historically been a leader in ensuring access to justice for human rights violations around the world, but it has effectively closed the courtroom door to all victims and survivors… Continue reading

New 9/11 truth documentary among ‘most watched’ on PBS this week

September 8, 2012
By Victoria N. Alexander
DigitalJournal.com

“9/11: Explosive Evidence – Experts Speak Out” is getting public attention and casting doubt on the scientific validity of the U.S. government’s investigation into the WTC tragedy. PBS is the first major network to air the program.

Just days away from the 11th anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy and months away from the U.S. presidential election, a game-changing 9/11 documentary is ranking number three among “most watched” documentaries on PBS and number one among “most shared.” Available for free online August 18th – September 4th, the documentary could have a significant effect on public opinion. [Update: PBS has extended viewing indefinitely.] Both the Republicans and Democrats, as equally staunch defenders of the official story, stand to be affected if the public’s suspicion of government corruption grows deeper.

An earlier report on Digital Journal found that the claims made in the documentary can be verified by reading the government reports themselves. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the government agency charged with the investigation, did not provide any data — no measurements or estimates — of the mass or energy that would be required to bring down the buildings in about ten seconds. Normally a scientific report would present all the data that is used to construct a theory. The omission of data is a red flag to anyone familiar with scientific procedure. It appears that the investigators may have intentionally produced reports that the scientific community would reject.… Continue reading

History Commons New 9/11 Timeline Entries

August 9, 2012
New 9/11 Timeline Entries: Hijacking Exercises, Air Force One’s Movements, Laura Bush on Sept. 11, and More
HistoryCommons.org

History Commons is only halfway towards its summer fundraising goal. Please contribute generously to help the History Commons stay alive and functioning.

A large number of entries have been added to the Complete 9/11 Timeline at History Commons, most of which provide new details about the events of the day of September 11, 2001.

Other entries are being posted in the US Civil Liberties project on campaign finance, voting laws, and indefinite detentions.

New 9/11 Entries

One new timeline entry describes a training exercise based on the scenario of a possible terrorist attack that was run on the morning of September 11 by the US Coast Guard in Tampa Bay, Florida, quite close to Sarasota, where the president was at the time. Another entry deals with a meeting scheduled to take place at the Pentagon that morning, regarding a planned “disaster exercise” at the nearby Navy Annex building.

An entry reveals that a number of FBI agents had, for reasons that are unknown, already arrived at the Navy Annex when the Pentagon was hit. Later on, the Navy set up a new command center at the Navy Annex, after its original command center was destroyed in the Pentagon attack.

Continue reading

EFF Challenges National Security Letter Statute in Landmark Lawsuit

July 17, 2012
By Matt Zimmerman
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Since the first national security letter statute was passed in 1986, the FBI has issued hundreds of thousands of such letters seeking private telecommunications and financial records of Americans without any prior approval from courts. Indeed, for the period between 2003 and 2006 alone, almost 200,000 requests for private customer information were sought pursuant to various NSL statutes. Prior to 2011, the constitutionality of this legal authority to investigate the records of Americans without court oversight had been challenged in court — as far as we know — exactly one time. EFF is today releasing FBI-redacted briefing from a major new ongoing case in which it is challenging one of the NSL statutes on behalf of a telecommunications company that received an NSL in 2011. Not only does this briefing show that the Department of Justice continues to strongly protect the FBI’s NSL authority, it highlights a startlingly aggressive new tactic used by the Department of Justice: suing NSL recipients who challenge the FBI’s authority, arguing that court challenges to such authority themselves amount to breaking the law.

National security letter statutes — five in all — are controversial laws that allow the FBI to easily bypass courts and issue administrative letters on their own authority to telecommunications companies and financial institutions demanding information about their customers. The NSL statutes permit the FBI to permanently gag service providers from revealing the fact that the demand was made, preventing them from… Continue reading

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