In a powerful testament to the value of Edward Snowden’s decision to leak, the Pulitzer Prize for journalism was awarded to the Guardian and the Washington Post. This came just days after the lead reporters on Snowden’s NSA stories – Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, and Ewan MacAskill – received the Polk Award for their journalism. Everyone involved in receiving these awards said they really belonged to Edward Snowden.

Snowden has been called a criminal, a traitor, a thief, a terrorist sympathizer, and worse. But these awards, along with the awards and international accolades Snowden himself has received, vindicate his actions and make fools out of those in Washington who can’t help but condemn him as a traitor. In a statement, Snowden said the award is “a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government.”

The Washington Post reports on its Executive Editor Martin Baron’s statement on the Pulitzer win:

“Disclosing the massive expansion of the NSA’s surveillance network absolutely was a public service,” Baron said. “In constructing a surveillance system of breathtaking scope and intrusiveness, our government also sharply eroded individual privacy. All of this was done in secret, without public debate, and with clear weaknesses in oversight.”

Baron added that without Snowden’s disclosures, “we never would have known how far this country had shifted away from the rights of the individual in favor of state power. There would have been no public debate about the proper balance between privacy and national security. As even the president has acknowledged, this is a conversation we need to have.”

Exactly. But not everyone feels that way.

Here’s a tweet from one of Snowden’s most aggressive critics, Rep. Peter King (R-NY):

King, remember, refuses to call the award winning journalists “reporters.” He calls them “accomplices.”

U.S. Army Spc. Tyler Meehan observes Kenyan trainees

U.S. Army Spc. Tyler Meehan observes Kenyan trainees

The U.S. is assembling the rudiments of imperial infrastructure throughout Africa, and hardly anybody knows about it. Hardly anybody knows about it because the government and military refuse to divulge much of U.S. foreign policy towards Africa. You see, U.S. foreign policy is really none of our business.

The Obama administration has been slowly – and very quietly – peppering the U.S. military throughout the continent and putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of government contractors to build the necessary infrastructure for a permanent U.S. military presence.

Washington has been increasing its support for African regimes, many with records of human rights violations, and boosting efforts to train African militaries to keep them dependent on the Pentagon. The U.S. is training and equipping militaries in countries including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia – not to mention operations in Libya, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, et al.

Reporter Nick Turse has been at the forefront of reporting on America’s gradual infiltration of Africa. He writes this week about, among other things, the difference between what military officials say about Africa policy when asked by reporters and what they tell U.S. contractors looking to do business for taxpayer money. To journalists, the Pentagon maintains that we’re hardly doing anything in Africa beyond “humanitarian assistance.” To the military industrial complex, they say America is “at war” in Africa and is looking for a “permanent footprint” throughout the continent.

Captain Rick Cook, the chief of US Africa Command’s Engineer Division, was addressing an audience of more than fifty representatives of some of the largest military engineering firms on the planet—and this reporter. The contractors were interested in jobs and he wasn’t pulling any punches. “The eighteen months or so that I’ve been here, we’ve been at war the whole time,” Cook told them. “We are trying to provide opportunities for the African people to fix their own African challenges. Now, unfortunately, operations in Libya, South Sudan, and Mali, over the last two years, have proven there’s always something going on in Africa.”

Cook was one of three US military construction officials who, earlier this month, spoke candidly about the Pentagon’s efforts in Africa to men and women from URS Corporation, AECOM, CH2M Hill and other top firms. During a paid-access web seminar, the three of them insisted that they were seeking industry “partners” because the military has “big plans” for the continent. They foretold a future marked by expansion, including the building up of a “permanent footprint” in Djibouti for the next decade or more, a possible new compound in Niger, and a string of bases devoted to surveillance activities spreading across the northern tier of Africa. They even let slip mention of a small, previously unacknowledged US compound in Mali.

Turse sums up some of the activities the U.S. is known to be engaged in: “Over the last several years, the US has been building a constellation of drone bases across Africa, flying intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions out of not only Niger, but also Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the island nation of the Seychelles.”

[The US military] now averages far more than a mission a day on the continent, conducting operations with almost every African military force, in almost every African country, while building or building up camps, compounds, and “contingency security locations.” The US has taken an active role in wars from Libya to the Central African Republic, sent special ops forces into countries from Somalia to South Sudan, conducted airstrikes and abduction missions, even put boots on the ground in countries where it pledged it would not.

Meanwhile, CNN is preoccupied with its 500th hour straight of the missing Malaysian airline coverage. Fox is busy with its perennial Benghazi conspiracy theories and antagonistic coverage of Russian policy in Ukraine. And MSNBC doesn’t dare cover anything but Obama’s benevolent domestic social policies. In the newspapers, one can find the occasional report of U.S. missions in Africa, but they hardly question the wisdom or legitimacy of such interventions (and hardly anyone reads the newspapers anyhow).

Mix this deficient news media environment with the Pentagon’s utter refusal to answer straight questions about U.S. interventionism in Africa, and you have a public that is completely uninformed about a growing chunk of U.S. foreign policy that will soon (as it already has) render dangerous unintended consequences.

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The White House has just confirmed what had been reported in Russian media that CIA Director John Brennan was in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev over the weekend.

“Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is accusing the CIA of being behind the new government’s decision to turn to force,” AP reports. “But the CIA denies that Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations.”

One would have to be incredibly gullible to believe that the CIA Director was in Kiev for benign reasons, just to catch up and have tea with the new leadership.

Coming alongside this news is word from the State Department that, “the United States is considering supplying arms to Ukraine,” to fight against pro-Russian militias and protesters in the east.

This looks like the beginnings of a new proxy war. If the U.S. goes down this road, even in a limited fashion, Ukraine will descend into even worse chaos and Eastern Europe will become a resource sinkhole for an already indebted U.S.

The pull of getting involved in proxy wars is intoxicatingly strong for an obvious reason: proxies do all the work. Just provide surrogates cash and guns and voilà! The devil, as always, is in the details. Proxy wars are usually waged secretly and thus represent U.S. foreign policy that the American people (and indeed most of the U.S. government itself) has no say in. They usually involve supporting unscrupulous groups of people that often end up committing serious crimes (although, it’s by proxy so U.S. officials typically wiggle out of any responsibility).

Perhaps most importantly, research shows pretty clearly that when foreign powers meddle in a civil conflict-turn-proxy war, the conflict is prolonged and often becomes stalemated. Each side in Ukraine is already emboldened by their respective foreign backers and therefore neither has incentive to compromise.

Beyond all of those palpable reasons not to get involved in a proxy war, one question that is barely (if ever) asked in the mainstream is what business the U.S. has of getting involved in the Ukraine crisis in the first place. Ukraine is not a vital U.S. interest, even as defined by policymakers in Washington, D.C. who think virtually “every nook and cranny of the globe is of great strategic significance.”

Commentators left and right can holler all they want about Moscow’s transgressions, but it doesn’t change the fact that the U.S. has no right or legal sanction whatsoever to meddle in Ukraine.

If it’s true that Brennan was conducting tactical operations in Ukraine and that the State Department is going to send in weapons to Kiev, then Americans can wait for Ukraine to get much, much worse, as both eastern and western Ukraine become emboldened by their respective backers in Moscow and Washington, neither of which are apparently willing to back down themselves.

[Cross posted from the People's Constitution Blog of the Board of Rights Defense Committee -- Angela Keaton]

Thursday, April 10, 2014 was a National Day of Action against Fusion Centers. Diverse, multiracial grassroots coalitions from around the country held rallies, press conferences, and creative actions to challenges civil liberties by fusion centers, which coordinate the surveillance activities of local police alongside federal agencies like the NSA and FBI. Fusion centers have operated at unknown cost, failed to meaningfully serve a public benefit, and drawn critics including Senators across the partisan spectrum, the ACLU, environmentalists, Muslim Americans, peace activists, and Ron Paul supporters.

Participating cities in yesterday’s action included: Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington DC. Below the jump are quotes from organizers, as well as photos and videos from several of the sites.

Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said:

Congress’ failure to restrain dragnet domestic spying is shameful, the courts have sat on their hands for a decade, and the president has finally announced long-overdue but still meager, under inclusive, and potentially counterproductive remedies that could make the constitutional crisis even worse. The fusion center network, in particular, is especially wasteful, fraudulent, and demonstrably ineffective from a national security or public safety standpoint while still offending constitutional rights.

The surveillance reforms under debate in Washington should be pervasive, in order to restrain domestic spying coordinated through DHS funded fusion centers that are co-opting and distracting local police agencies around the country.

Jamie Garcia, a Registered Nurse and member of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition in Los Angeles, said:

Not only are Fusion Centers at the heart of government spying and surveillance linking local, regional and national data collection, they also amount to a waste of precious public resources when critical services are being cut back. Instead of Fusion Centers, we need health centers, community centers, youth centers!

The last time anyone looked, a bipartisan Senate panel found that fusion centers had failed to demonstrate any utility. Moreover, according to Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK):

DHS has resisted oversight of these centers. The Department opted not to inform Congress or the public of serious problems plaguing its fusion center and broader intelligence efforts. When this Subcommittee requested documents that would help it identify these issues, the Department initially resisted turning them over, arguing that they were protected by privilege, too sensitive to share, were protected by confidentiality agreements, or did not exist at all. The American people deserve better.

This Thursday, Americans in half a dozen cities came together to demand exactly that.

Boston, MA Action

Dallas, TX

Washington, DC

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Errol Morris’s new documentary about Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, is not as valuable as his last piece The Fog of War, a similarly styled conversation with another former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. The fault is not Morris’s, but Rumsfeld’s.

In The Fog of War, McNamara is guilt-ridden and reflective about his involvement in the Vietnam War and war in general. He makes damning confessions, saying the U.S. committed war crimes in WWII and talking openly about the false justifications for the Johnson administration’s escalation in Vietnam. He questions war, nationalism, the elite zeitgeist that drove the U.S. into the Vietnam calamity.

Somehow, this is satisfying to anyone who was alive and opposed the Vietnam War. And for younger generations that lived through the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan, it was gratifying to at least know that the architects of the U.S. war machine in the highest reaches of government know deep down what they’ve done, even if they don’t admit it publicly. It’s a kind of corrective; if war criminals aren’t going to be prosecuted, their guilt-ridden hearts are a distant second to that justice.

In The Unknown Known, by contrast, Rumsfeld leaves us Iraq War opponents deeply unfulfilled. There is not a whiff of regret, not the slightest willingness to admit wrongdoing, no culpability, no self-reflection. Instead, the former Secretary of Defense is almost gleeful; it’s not enough to say he is unrepentant because the viewer can find no indication that he is aware of anything for which to repent.

Beyond Rumsfeld’s failure to feel any remorse, the real twist of the knife is that Morris can’t even get him to agree on the facts, and Rumsfeld is therefore relieved of any obligation to reckon with the contrast between the Bush administration’s claims and what were the facts.

In other words, the up close and personal Don Rumsfeld is the same wretched snake that toyed with reporters in all those infamous press conferences, in which he spewed evasive epistemological inanities like “known unknowns” and “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence,” instead of straightforwardly answering questions about Saddam’s pursuit of WMDs or his alleged alliance with terrorist groups.

It is this “philosophizing” of Don Rumsfeld, Morris tells Reason‘s Nick Gillespie in an interview about the project, that “is the thrust” of the whole film. It is “the devaluation of evidence,” Morris explains, that drives Rumsfeld’s approach. Instead of thinking about “fact versus fiction,” Rumsfeld “drifts off into some kind of crazy meta-talk that is seemingly significant, but is not.”

Morris says he believes Rumsfeld is not a trickster, but rather that he believes his own nonsense, or at least is unperturbed by it. “Who is kidding whom?” Morris asks. “I think he’s kidding himself.”

A rabid dog that mauls a toddler to pieces may not be aware of what he has done, but he will still be put down. Rumsfeld, on the other hand, will live out the rest of his life in this freewheeling oblivion without threat of punishment.

The film is infuriating, but it is worth a watch. You can see Gillspie’s interview with Morris below.

Late last week, Sens. Diane Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post calling for the 6,300+ page Senate report on the CIA’s Bush-era torture and interrogation program to be released to the public:

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted 11 to 3 last Thursday to declassify and make public the executive summary and the findings and conclusions of its report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

Those documents have been sent to the president for declassification.

We believe that public release is the best way to ensure that this program of secret detention and coercive interrogation never happens again. It will also serve to uphold America’s practice of admitting wrongdoing and learning from its mistakes.

It’s hard for me to pin down just when “admitting wrongdoing and learning from mistakes” was a “practice” in American government, but I digress. Ever since the completion of this report, its authors in the Senate intelligence committee have urged its release. But after Feinstein went to the Senate floor last month to accuse the CIA of illegally trying to stonewall the investigation and block its release, Feinstein seemed to have changed her mind. Now the demand is not to have all 6,300+ pages released to the public, but to have approximately 500 pages of an executive summary submitted for declassification review. As Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian reported:

As a Senate committee moves to declassify a landmark report about the Central Intelligence Agency’s descent into torture, among the only certainties is that the public won’t see the vast majority of it.

The Senate select committee on intelligence has waged an unprecedented and acrimonious public battle with the CIA over a secret 6,300-page investigation concluding torture was an ineffective intelligence-gathering technique and that the CIA lied about its value. On Thursday, the committee is slated to take a belated vote to make it public.

Or more precisely, it will vote to make a slice public. And the CIA will have a significant degree of influence over how large and how public that slice will be.

The committee is not going to release the 6,300-page report. Its chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein of California, said on the Senate floor three weeks ago that only the “findings, conclusions and the executive summary of the report” were the subject of the committee’s declassification efforts. The vast majority of the Senate report – effectively, an alternative post-9/11 history detailing of years’ worth of CIA torture and cover-up – will remain shielded from public view.

Clearly, Feinstein and the rest of the Senate committee are the target of incredible pressure from the CIA and the White House to hem in their demands for public release. It’s also important to keep in mind that what will ultimately be released in this executive summary is still up to the CIA and the White House, given that they conduct the declassification review at their discretion. Don’t be surprised if even the fraction of the report up for declassification comes out heavily redacted.

Some of the classified details have been reported, though, and it ain’t pretty for the CIA. To take one example, McClatchy reported not only that the CIA went beyond the Justice Department’s own guidelines for permissible interrogation techniques, but that the CIA deliberately misled the DOJ, Congress, and the media in order to shield themselves from the law.

This obviously raise questions about what exactly is going to continue to be hidden from the public. What details of the brutal torture program are too dark for us to know? What ancillary activities included in the rest of the report are too shocking and felonious for public release?

To what extent is this whole “declassification” process an open admission that criminal activities within the intelligence community are allowed to be kept secret in order to shield said community from legal accountability or public ire? The CIA’s main excuse for opposing declassification has been to claim the report contains factual errors and misleading judgments. But Feinstein, in her Senate testimony, said that an internal CIA review came to the same conclusion and made the same judgements about the torture program.

“How can the CIA’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own internal review?” Feinstein asked. Good question. It can’t. And this is why the whole process is a thinly veiled attempt to maintain impunity for government criminals.