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Peter van Buren

Why Snowden the Movie Matters

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I’ve reviewed Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden elsewhere, and it’s well worth seeing just as a movie. But of course the issues brought up by Snowden the man, and Snowden the movie, are more complex than fit into two hours.

I had this hit home in a recent discussion with a friend who keeps insisting he has nothing to hide in his emails, phone calls, social media, etc., so why should he care if the NSA looks at all that?

Friend, here’s why:

NSA surveillance is legal.

True, as was slavery in the US, the Holocaust under Nazi Germany, Apartheid in South Africa and so forth. Laws serve higher purposes. They can be manipulated for evil. That’s why we need checks and balances to protect us.

Well, there are checks and balances in the system to protect us.

The king of all checks and balances in this, the Fourth Amendment, has been treated by the government like a used Kleenex.
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CNN Celebrates Iraqi Housewife Who Beheaded and Then Cooked the Skulls of ISIS fighters

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When Islamic State beheads someone it is terrorism. When an Iraqi housewife beheads an ISIS fighter and cooks his skull, it is freedom. That is the CNN doctrine.

CNN reports the story of 39-year-old Wahida Mohamed aka Um Hanadi, an Iraqi woman who supposedly leads a tribal militia force of around 70 men south of Mosul. She and her band allegedly helped “government forces” drive Islamic State out of a small town.

“I began fighting the terrorists in 2004, working with Iraqi security forces and the coalition,” she told CNN. CNN cites no other source other than Um Hanadi herself and Facebook in its coverage.

As a result, Um Hanadi said, she attracted the wrath of what eventually became al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which later morphed into ISIS. “I received threats from the top leadership of ISIS, including from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself,” she says. “I’m at the top of their most wanted list, even more than the [Iraqi] Prime Minister.”

Um Hanadi stated al Qaeda/AQI/ISIS planted car bombs outside her home in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014.
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Oliver Stone’s New Movie ‘Snowden’ Tackles the Myth

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Snowden
 is a helluva movie, kicking an audience’s ass on a number of levels. I had a chance to see the film last night at a preview event; it opens everywhere on September 16. Go see it.

On one level the film presents Snowden’s story as a political thriller. A brave but frightened man, certain he is doing the right thing but worried if he can pull it off, smuggles some of the NSA’s most secret information out of a secure facility. He makes contact with skeptical journalists in Hong Kong, convinces them of the importance of what he has to say, and then goes on the run from a U.S. government out to arrest, or, possibly assassinate, him.
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US Blocks Former British Ambassador From Entering America to Honor CIA Whistleblower

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The United States over the weekend denied travel to a former British ambassador, Craig Murray, who was also a British diplomat for some 30 years, and is the author of several books. 

Murray has stood twice for election to the House of Commons. He was “honored” by being thrown out of Uzbekistan by its repressive government after risking his life to expose appalling human rights abuses there. He is not a terrorist and is not a social media jihadi. He has no criminal record, no connection to drug smuggling, and does have a return ticket, a hotel reservation and ample funds to cover his expenses.

He is however seen as a threat to the United States.

Ambassador Murray was headed to the US this week to be Master of Ceremonies at an award ceremony honoring John Kiriakou, the CIA torture whistleblower. Kiriakou was the only US government official to go to jail in connection with the torture program, and all he did was help expose it to the media. The event is sponsored by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (of which I am a member.)
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Tell Us Why We’re At War, Candidates

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When I was a kid, successive presidents told us we had to fight in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, because if we didn’t fight them over there, we’d have to fight them on the beaches of California. We believed. It was a lie.

I was a teenager during the Cold War, several presidents told us we needed to create massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, garrison the world, maybe invade Cuba, fight covert wars and use the CIA to overthrow democratically elected governments and replace them with dictators, or the Russians would destroy us. We believed. It was a lie.

When I was in college our president told us that we needed to fight in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua or the Sandinistas would come to the United States. He told us Managua was closer to Washington DC than LA was. He told us we needed to fight in Lebanon, Grenada and Libya to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.
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Trouble Follows When the US Labels You a ‘Thug’

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There is a nasty pattern in American political speech, going back into the 1980s at least: when a senior US  official labels you a thug, often times wars follow. Thug is the safest word of American Exceptionalism.

So it is with some concern that lots of folks are pushing each other away from the mic to call Putin a thug (fun fact: Putin has been in effective charge of Russia for 15 years. As recently as the Hillary Clinton Secretary of State era, the US  sought a “reset” of relations with him.)

While the current throwing of the term thug at Putin is tied to the weak evidence presented publicly linking a Russian hacker under Putin’s employ to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computers, there may be larger issues in the background. But first, a sample of the rhetoric.

Putin the Thug

Obama on Putin: “a thug who doesn’t understand his own best interests.”

Mario Rubio on Putin: “A gangster and a thug.”

Paul Ryan’s spokesperson on Putin: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug.”
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The Secret Rules That Allow the FBI to Spy on Journalists

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The bones of our democracy — the core elements that separate that way of life from others — lie in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically the rights to free speech and a free press.

Without the ability to speak freely, and to have things about our government reported equally freely to us, most of the rest of the concept of what was laid out on July 4, 1776 and later falls away. Thomas Jefferson himself stated that an “informed citizenry” was the key to everything.

So it is with more than a little anxiety that we learned secret rules allow the FBI to spy on journalists with such ease that the restraints are really nothing more than a bit of paperwork. As always, the ostensible justifications for another deep step into Post Constitutional America are terrorism, security, protecting the homeland. And, as always, the outcome seems to be much more about stomping out whistleblowers than anything else.

As revealed by an anonymous whistleblower to The Intercept (the government refused to release the information), secret rules allow FBI agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from only two internal officials. No warrant needed. No outside oversight. No courts, no judges, no hearings, no public records.
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Clinton, Wasserman Schultz and the Wheezing Corpse of the Democratic Process Revealed

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Wikileaks over the last few days dumped tens of thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server.

The disclosures of dirty tricks directed against Bernie Sanders contained in those emails are startling, and only add to the whirlpool of corruption and sleaze surrounding Hillary Clinton and the wheezing corpse of the democratic process.

There's a lot to unpack here:

-- The same people on the Clinton team who made enormous efforts to claim her private email server, which operated unencrypted over the Internet for three months including during trips to China and Russia and which contained Top Secret national security data, was not hacked by the Russians now are certain that the DNC server was hacked by the Russians.

-- Many in Camp Clinton and the media labeled Bernie Sanders' supporters are paranoid when they made claims during the primaries that the DNC was working against them. The hacked emails confirm the DNC was working against them, including suggestions that the DNC find ways to suggest Sanders was an atheist to discredit him in religious areas.
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Defeating Islamic Terrorism. Here’s How…

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As terrorism struck again in Nice and Germany and… Donald Trump outlined his policy against Islamic State: as president, he will seek a full declaration of war from Congress, the first such formal invocation since Pearl Harbor.

Trump was short on specifics but very clear he would take the strategies of the post-9/11 era into a presidency. Clinton, for her part, intends on “intensifying the current air campaign [and] stepping up support for local forces on the ground.” Their French counterpart, President Francois Hollande, declared “We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.”

The problem is that none of that will work. While perhaps necessary at times, military force is far from sufficient in defeating Islamic terrorism.

Post-Germany, Post-Nice, post-Brussels, post-Turkey, post-Paris… it is clear the last 15 years of the war on terror in general, and the last two against Islamic State in particular, have not worked. No society can defend itself fully when any truck can be turned into a weapon. No amount of curating social media will prevent disenfranchised people from becoming radicalized. Ramadi fell, Fallujah fell, Mosul will likely fall, and Nice still happened.

“The effect that’s going to happen now is like stepping on a ball of mercury,” stated one American intelligence analyst. “You step on a ball of mercury, all the pieces break up and spread around the world.”
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Cleveland Police to RNC Protesters: Don’t Hide Your Faces (Facial Recognition)

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Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams issued a warning to an undisclosed number of masked protesters outside the Republican National Convention: “If you are a member of a group that causes you to have to hide your face, then you probably need a different cause.”

Police claim they have received at least a dozen calls related to concerns about the small groups of black-clad “anarchists” with masks.

So why is Chief Williams so concerned about the face masks? Too early for Halloween?

Nope, facial recognition.

Law enforcement aggressively employs facial recognition technology at events such as the Republican National Convention to identify “persons of interest” and to catalog new persons of interest. Masked faces don’t play as well with the technology (though newer tech can get around some limitations, and iris scan tech needs only to see your, well, eyes. More below.)

With facial recognition, a computer digitizes an image of someone’s face in a way that makes fooling the system difficult, stuff like measuring the distance between eyes, the angle of one’s nose, ear lobe shape and other tough to alter things.
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