What exactly is 'classified material'.

In late 2010, Trevor Timm wrote an article on the New York Law School blog "Legal As She Is Spoken". His article was entitled ''Classified “Top Secret”: From the Absurd to the Criminal''.

It details the case of one Anthony Shaffer, and his book "Operation Dark Heart". The book was mass-bought-out by the government and then destroyed, allegedly at the behest of various intelligence agencies such as the NSA and CIA.

They claimed it contained too much classified information and national defense secrets. Such as?

The location of NSA Headquarters. As Timm points out, this is common knowledge. For example, a picture of it is on the back of Bamford's book Body of Secrets. You can also simply google it; it's right there in google maps. The government has decided to redact this from Shaffer's book.

Another secret? The word 'SIGINT'. This acronym is short for Signals Intelligence. This is all over the internet as well; it is common knowledge. And yet, the government redacted it from Shaffer's book.

Timm gives many more examples, of equally questionable national security value.

Everytime I hear or read someone claiming that the defendants Thomas Drake or Stephn Kim or others were involved with 'classified information', I really have to wonder, exactly what does that word 'classified' mean?

How many times in history have we been told that information was sensitive and classified, only to find out later that it was either trivial or simply embarassing?

It goes all the way back to the Reynolds v. United States case in the 1950s, in which the government blatantly lied about an airplane crash in order to hide it's own mistakes. The widows of the GI's who were killed had to wait decades to find out the truth.

The government, if treated as an individual person, would have little credibility as a witness. It's history is damning. It's pattern of behavior does not inspire confidence.

How long will we have to wait to learn the truth about the 'state secrets' that are being hidden now, in 2011? There are still cases being thrown out of court for 'state secrets' privilege, and there are several Espionage Act prosecutions going on right now, one of which (Drake's) is going through a strange and unusual 'evidence hiding' procedure called the Silent Witness Rule. All of this is justified by the government under the banner of 'national security'. But how can a reasonable person take the govermnent's claim at face value, considering the government's history?

Note to self: Uploading stuff to wikipedia doesn't qualify you for an FOIA fee waiver

Damn. Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Robotic libraries are thought control centers

Slashdot has an article about how in new libraries, robots retrieve books from shelves instead of you being able to go and browse through the shelves yourself. Several commenters pointed out that this completely removes any anonymity from the library experience. An example:

The Old Days:

Step 1: Slip into the library bored on a friday night
Step 2: go find books on nuclear weapons, magic mushrooms, the kinsey survey on human sexuality, medical anomalies, history of anarchism, history of communism, thomas jefferson's diaries, the works of gandhi, hitler, marx, martin luther king, winston churchill, nelson mandela, mao tse tung, sakharov, solzhenytsin, bill mauldin, tolstoy, dr. seuss, etc etc etc. read to your hearts content. Nobody will ever know what you looked up.

The New Days:

Step 1. Login with your government provided username and password
Step 2. Click on the warning notice that says all your activity is monitored and unauthorized activity will be punished
Step 3. Search for stuff.
Step 4. Try to tell yourself that everything you search for is not being stored in some database somewhere. even though it is.
Step 5. Try to tell yourself that the government needs a warrant to spy on your records. even though it doesn't.
Step 6. Try to tell yourself that the library administrators have taken privacy very seriously, and put in safeguards, even though they haven't.
Step 7. Try to forget that the USA PATRIOT act forces librarians to accept National Security Letters for searches of patron records, and then forces them to never talk about it.
Step 8. Subconsciously limit what you search for, and subconsciously censor yourself.
Step 9. Eventualy, subconsciously censoring what you read leads to subconsciously censoring what you write.
Step 10. Self-censorship of one's reading and writing leads to self-censorhip of one's thinking.


Slashdot story link

Who watches the watchmen?

The FBI and the DOJ have spent a great deal of effort going after Thomas Drake, Jeffrey Sterling, Stephen Kim, Bradley Manning, and Shamai Leibowitz. In 2010, all of them got Espionage charges proferred against them. In 2011 an unknown Cambridge person probably associated with Wikileaks might; they have a Grand Jury going on as I write this.

In 1999, Dr. Wen Ho Lee had a similar thing happen to him. In fact, the similarities are, just, to me, very bizarre. They include various fads in Washington, such as finding the 'Chinese spy' or finding the 'leakers of the NSA warrantless wiretaps'. They also include questionable FBI tactics, such as long interviews without lawyers, and charging someone with 'making false statements' because they flub some minor detail, or because they simply disagree with the FBI's theory of events. There is intimidation, such as solitary confienement, and threatening the person's friends or family with arrest.

The worst similarity, though, in my opinion, is that while hundreds of government employees were chasing down phantom 'Chinese spies' that apparently not exist and were likely inconsequential at any rate, the 9/11 hijackers were living inside the United States, and they slipped right through the fingers of the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI, all of whom had information about these people before the tragedy.

The Wen Ho Lee case started up in the mid 1990s. It reached it's climax in 1999/2000. There were, according to his book, dozens of agents assigned to him. Who knows how many DOJ staff were also working on his case. They combed through his house, investigated and questioned all of his relatives, poured through his computers and files, examined every inch of his laboratories. The state had to build a special compartmentalized room for his lawyers to go over information. He got a special cell in the jail for only him.

In 1999 and 2000, the 9/11 hijackers were living in the United States. In James Bamford's book The Shadow Factory, he details how 2 of them, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, were inside the NSA's databases; NSA had been tapping Bin Ladin's communications hub in Yemen. The CIA knew something about them; in fact two FBI agents inside CIA's "Alec Station" Bin Ladin unit knew about these hijackers coming to the USA. These two FBI agents, working within the CIA, were prevented from telling FBI headquarters about what was going on. Before all the bureaucratic bungling and miscommunication was taken care of, these hijackers had taken flying lessons, they had actually had a landlord who was coincidentally an FBI informant (who didn't notice anything unsual about them), and they had moved to the Maryland area, almost right next door to NSA headquarters.

This was going on while the US Congress was obsessively churning out document after document, chasing down the 'Chinese Spy' who had given them the 'secrets' of the 'W-88'. Nevermind that just about every nuclear scientist will tell you there aren't that many secrets to making an atomic bomb. You take two blobs of enriched uranium or plutonium, smash them together really fast, and you have a bomb. This has been known since the 1930s at least. The hard part is getting enough enriched uranium or plutonium to make a big boom; that is a mining and engineering problem, not necessarily a nuclear science problem. Besides, if China really wanted our nuclear secrets, they could have just asked one of the contractors that leaks to them, like, say, ITT, which was convicted of giving them night vision goggles in 2007 and whose punishment was a slap-on-the-wrist-fine and more business contracts from the government.

Meanwhile, in 2000, the terrorists were in their final planning stages. They were going over in their minds the routes they would take, how to take over a plan, how to split up so that they would look less suspicious going through airport security, and so forth and so on. Some wrote goodby letters to their families.

In the late 1990s, there was an FBI agent named Robert Wright, who was involved in anti-terrorism work in Chicago. He was a student of money laundering. Right before 9/11, he wrote a scathing book about the FBI's incompetence and mismanagement in regards to it's failure to investigate and prosecute terrorism. He described how his own work had been thwarted by lack of resources. Now, his story gets complicated, because he apparently later was accused by several people of being bigoted towards a Muslim colleague at the FBI; this Muslim colleague was also a man who 'broke' several terrorism cases. It is complicated. However the point is that Wright was doing counter terrorism work, and he had to do it on a shoestring budget, buying some of his own supplies like computer software. He tried to write a book and provoke debate about the topic; the FBI prevented publication and threatened him with criminal prosecution if he did so. Maybe Wright was

Meanwhile, the government prosecutors in the Lee case were being chastised by the judge for their misconduct. One FBI agent, on the stand, admitted to making a false statement regarding some of the evidence against Lee. Meanwhile agents were watching his house, watching his relatives, and pouring through the evidence again, looking for any actual violations. Lee did a plea bargain; afterwards the FBI questioned him for 60+ hours, and then sent agents to look through garbage dumps for information he said he'd thrown away years ago.

In 2001, according to Bamford's book, the FBI finally put someone on to some of these hijackers that had been detected in 1999 and 2000. By the time they did that, it was too late. 9/11 happened.

So what does any of this have to do with the Espionage prosecutions of 2010? In the late 1990s, we had dozens, if not hundreds, of government employees who could have been going after real terrorists. Instead, they were going through the garbage dump in Los Alamos, looking for worthless tapes. Millions of dollars were spent on the Chinagate project, while actual anti-terrorism agents were undergoing budgetary constraints, mismanagement, and threats of prosecution for simply writing a book. Of course, 8 years later, our Treasury Secretary would be worried that the Chinese government was about to call its hundreds of billions of dollars of Fannie and Freddie bonds or Treasury bonds. Fortunately, he had done a lot of business in China and had a good relationship with their finance ministers. In his book, he talks to them almost as much as he talks to the president or the heads of the US banks.

Now, in 2010, we have dozens, if not hundreds, of government employees who are supposed to be going after real terrorsits, and they are instead chasing phantom leaks in the bogus Thomas Drake and Stephen Kim case, the probably bogus Sterling case, and the Manning case, which has many bogus aspects to it, and the Shamai Leibowitz case, whose details we are uncertain of, but involved communication with a blogger, not a 'foreign agent'

So I am wondering. If the government is spending all this effort on attacking leakers and whistleblowers, who is watching the actual terrorists? We have only just begun to understand precisely how much incompetence and mismanagement were responsible for 9/11, and how it might have been prevented. Of course the ultimate blame goes with the hijackers and their leaders, but responsibility is different from blame.

Has anything really changed, then, in the past 10 years? Yes, they pat down babies at airports now. They make people in wheelchairs get up. They put mothers in glass rooms while they take their children away. They listen to our phones and read our email and build files on us by scraping data from our web comments and facebook friends. I suppose all of this might have stopped some of the attackers.

But what about the incompetence and mismanagement at the top levels of government? Has that been changed? The Drake case, the Kim case, and the Sterling case, in particular, would seem to indicate that the government is as misfocused and misdirected as it was in 1999 and 2000.

I hope I am wrong. I have a tendency to believe conspiracy theories and to jump to conclusions. Hopefuly this is just another one of those aimless theories that wanders into my brain from time to time. Hopefully I don't have all the facts, and lack the experience and judgement to analyze the situation. Hopefully!

-- updated

removed a bunch of extraneous speculation. removed 'al qaeda' from robert wright section, that was wrong. added stuff.

The media 2.0 - the people's voice on the Drake case

Back in 2010 there were a streak of media stories on the case of NSA Whistleblower Thomas Drake. Many of them did not seem to weigh the 'whistleblower' angle with the 'leaker' angle. In May 2011 there was a new streak of stories, and the spark seems to be Jane Mayer's New Yorker article, 'The Secret Sharer', in which she managed to persuade Drake's friends Roark and Wiebe to interviews.

With the many, many stories there are a lot of very interesting internet comments (IMHO).

Client Science Watch

-comment from someone who claims to be a retired US Customs Port Director, who says

Dear God, the true Shame cries out from the Authors of Our Most Sacred National Documents. We will surely fall on the pointed end of the Military Industrial Complex and their papered over 'Secrets'/Failures.

60 Minutes, CBS, including inteviews with Diane Roark and Jesselyn Radack (in the 'extras')

-every last comment is in support of Drake. Many of them claim to have been government contractors or otherwise knowledgable of Federal government practices, and speak of similar experiences with whistleblowing, waste, fraud, and abuse. "go along to get along", &c.

-someone named "Deathbylapdance" wants to know where he can send money to help Drake

The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf

-comments include a guy detailing the history of wiretapping

FreeRepublic.com, Alex Jone's Infowars.com, RawStory.com, DailyKos.com, wired.com, Techdirt.com, National Public Radio's Neal Conan, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists (fas.org) wrote about it, Glenn Greenwald @ salon.com, slashdot.org (conflict of interest note, i wrote the slashdot blurb), Sibel Edmonds @ boilingfrogs, and a couple more sites I have forgotten about. They all have, basically, similar comments. You have people saying this is an outrage, people saying this is not transparency, and people saying that they have experience with the federal government and contracting and they know there is a lot of corruption and that whistleblowing is persecuted.

Even the "American Chronicle", produced a page entitled "Psychic Rapture, Thomas Drake, and Espionage" telling us about how the paranormal link up with the case.

Left, right, libertarian, progressive, center, even conspiracy theorists and interdimensional travellers seem to agree, with something like 99 to 1 odds, that the case against Drake is politically motivated, and has nothing to do with national security. Many, many of them call Thomas Drake a hero.

Now I don't know if the HBO series on President John Adams was accurate, but when he was passing the Alien and Sedition Acts in the early days of the Nation, and someone objected, Adams said to him something like this: "You don't want me to go against the will of the people, do you? The people want this!".

Nowdays, I have to wonder, who wants this Espionage Act prosecution of Thomas Drake? The people certainly seem to be against it; at least the people on the internet.

A Baltimore Grand Jury apparently thought there was enough evidence for a trial; then again, Baltimore is an NSA "company town", according to James Bamford's book Shadow Factory. All of the contractors who moved in to the Baltimore area in the early 2000s brought a lot of money. It was boom-time, and apparently still is; people just made oodles of money. I have to wonder if they shouldn't have a change-of-venue so that Mr. Drake can get a fair trial. Then again I'm not a lawyer.