Key Democratic and Republican members of Congress said Sunday that the terrorism threat reportedly triggered by an intercepted message between senior al Qaeda operatives is the most serious threat in years, with some warning that the threat is an indication the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks still poses a significant danger to the U.S.
The threat forced the closings of more than 20 U.S. embassies and consulates this weekend. A travel alert was issued for Americans planning to travel overseas, particularly in the Middle East, and will remain in effect for the rest of August. The closures of the embassies and consulates and the travel alert were triggered by an intercepted message between senior al Qaeda operatives, CNN reported Sunday.
The State Department announced Sunday afternoon that 19 diplomatic posts will remain shuttered through Saturday, underscoring the level of concern by U.S. security officials about the potential danger. Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the extension was ordered in part because of the looming celebrations marking the end of the Ramadan period of fasting for Muslims and in part out of “an abundance of caution.”
“This is not an indication of a new threat stream, merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect our employees, including local employees, and visitors to our facilities,” Ms. Psaki said.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the danger was “the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years.”
Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, concurred, saying the magnitude of the plot may be even more extensive than that.
“I have been given every assurance that we’re doing everything we can to prevent this threat from happening,” Mr. McCaul, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And I must say this is probably one of the most specific and credible threats I’ve seen perhaps since 9/11. And that’s why everybody is taking this so seriously.”
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said that more than 25 of the country’s embassies around the world are particularly vulnerable, according to a briefing senators recently received from Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
“We need to know and realize we’re living in an increasingly dangerous world, and this specific threat that we’ve been briefed on over and over again has reached a new level,” Mr. Durbin said.
The U.S. posts that will remain closed for the week include embassies and consulates in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
Republicans and Democrats alike agreed that shutting down the embassies and consulates was the right move in light of the intelligence.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, cautioned against allowing the United States to be driven out of the Middle East completely, as resurgent elements of the global al Qaeda network reconstitute themselves in the volatile region.
“Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Iraq, al-Nusra, all of them have one thing in common: They want to drive the West out of the Mideast and take over these Muslim countries and create an al Qaeda-type religious entity in the place of what exists today,” Mr. Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “So this is an effort to terrorize us, to drive us out of the Mideast.”
Mr. Graham said the U.S. has to show “resolve, but we have to be smart.”
He said he still plans to travel to Egypt with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, in the near future.
“We can’t let them get away with this. We have to stand up to them,” he said.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, agreed that the government was taking appropriate action.
“We need to take every precaution necessary, and that’s what we’re doing right now,” Mr. Ruppersberger said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and past chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said he often disagrees with the Obama administration on matters of national security but supports the steps officials have taken in recent days.
“They’d be derelict if they were not,” Mr. King said on “This Week.” “[A]s far as this worldwide alert, I think it’s absolutely warranted in this situation.”
Mr. McCaul said the State Department warning is significant because al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is probably the biggest threat to the U.S.
“They’re the al Qaeda faction that still talks about hitting the West and hitting the homeland,” he said. “And their expertise is chemical explosives, hitting the aviation sector, as we saw with the underwear bomber. So we are on a high state of alert.”
Former NSA and CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden said on “Fox News Sunday” that the terrorist threat is an indication that the danger posed by al Qaeda is not over.
“You have a real danger to Americans, you want to be cautious,” Mr. Hayden said. “The announcement itself might also be designed to interrupt al Qaeda planning, to put them … on the back foot, to let them know that we’re alert, and that we’re onto at least a portion of this plot line.” (Contributor: By David Sherfinski for The Washington Times)
UPDATE: There were no reports of violence or unusual activity in any of the countries where the United States had kept its embassies and consulates closed when they would have ordinarily been open on Sunday. Nevertheless, the State Department announced that embassies and consulates in 16 countries would remain closed throughout the week, including four African nations that had not been on the original list. Diplomatic posts in five other countries would reopen Monday, the State Department said, including those in Afghanistan and Iraq, where terrorist attacks have been frequent.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the extended closures were “not an indication of a new threat stream.”
“Given that a number of our embassies and consulates were going to be closed in accordance with local custom and practice for the bulk of the week for the Eid celebration at the end of Ramadan, and out of an abundance of caution, we’ve decided to extend the closure of several embassies and consulates,” she said.
An official who’d been briefed on the matter in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, told McClatchy that the embassy closings and travel advisory were the result of an intercepted communication between Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri in which Zawahiri gave “clear orders” to al-Wuhaysi, who was recently named al Qaida’s general manager, to carry out an attack.
The official, however, said he could not divulge details of the plot. AQAP’s last major attack in Sanaa took place in May 2012 when a suicide bomber killed more than 100 military cadets at a rehearsal for a military parade.
“Al-Qaida is on the rise in this part of the world and the NSA program is proving its worth yet again,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“This is a good indication of why they’re so important,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a leading critic of the program, took the opposing position on CNN, saying the program that has raised the most opposition in Congress, the daily collection of so-called cell phone metadata that details numbers called, the location where a call originated, and the length of a call, appears to have had nothing to do with either the closing of the U.S. diplomatic outposts or the travel advisory.
“If you look at the one that’s most at issue here, and that’s the bulk metadata program, there’s no indication, unless I’m proved wrong later, that that program, which collects vast amounts of domestic data, domestic telephony data, contributed to information about this particular plot,” he said.
The disagreement highlighted the growing debate over the domestic versus international component of the NSA’s data collection efforts, an issue that has become increasingly convoluted in controversies surrounding the agency.
There are two communication intercept programs in particular that have come under scrutiny in the wake of leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, both of which operate under different provisions of U.S. law.
The collection of the telephone records was authorized by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the collection of business records without a subpoena. In early June, Snowden revealed that the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court had secretly ordered a Verizon subsidiary to provide the NSA on a daily business the metadata for all of its cell phone accounts, the first confirmation that the NSA was collecting records on millions of U.S. cell phones.
A second program was authorized under a separate law, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that program the NSA collects data on Internet traffic that moves through nine Internet companies, including Facebook and Yahoo. NSA has insisted that only data about accounts outside the United States is collected.
Obama administration officials have struggled in recent weeks to clearly articulate how successful either program has been in thwarting terror plots in the face of open skepticism by some members of Congress. Instead, officials told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that individual successes of the programs are impossible to determine.
“That’s a very difficult question to answer in so much that it’s not necessarily how these programs work. That’s actually not how these programs work,” NSA Deputy Director John Inglis said when asked how many terror plots the telephone metadata programs had been critical in identifying. “What happens is you simply have a range of tools at your disposal.”
The distinction between the two programs has become an important part of the NSA debate as more and more lawmakers have proposed legislation to reform the agency’s practices when it comes to domestic metadata collection.
“Do we need to collect all of the phone records of all of the people living in America for five years so that if we’re going to target one particular person we’re ready to jump on it?” Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin, D-Ill, asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Last week, Durbin inserted a provision into a defense spending bill that would require the NSA to detail how many Americans had been affected by the collection of phone records, how much it cost NSA to collect and store those records, and to list any specific plots that had been thwarted by those records. The Appropriations Committee approved the provision and it the Senate will consider the legislation when it reconvenes in September.
Durbin said that President Barack Obama had said he was “open to suggestions” on making the NSA program more transparent during a meeting with nine members of Congress last week.
Graham, however, seemed to indicate that the fight to curb the NSA programs is likely to be fierce.
“To the members of the Congress who want to reform the NSA program, great; but if you want to gut it, you make us much less safe and you’re putting our nation at risk,” he said. “We need to have policies in place that can deal with the threats that exist, and they are real and they are growing.”
The Sunday embassy closings became part of that argument, despite questions about what role either program might have played or how real the threat will turn out to be.
“The good news is that we picked up intelligence. That’s what the NSA does,” said Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” he said, “NSA’s sole purpose is to get information intelligence to protect Americans from attack.”
Chambliss had a similar view. “These programs are controversial, we understand that. They’re very sensitive. They’re what allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter we refer to,” he said.
“If we did not have these programs we wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys. And I will say it’s the 702 program that’s allowed us to pick up on this chatter.”
Just what role the programs had in intercepting the communication is yet to be known.
The State Department list of extended closings included embassies and consulates in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, Libya, Djibouti, Sudan, Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius – the last four of which had not been on the list announced Friday. Embassies and consulates in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Iraq, and Mauritania would reopen on Monday.
In Sanaa, the epicenter of concern, Yemeni officials said they were on high alert, but there was little evidence that anything was amiss. Traffic clogged major arteries as residents prepared for the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday.
The Yemen-based AQAP has been the most active al Qaida chapter in recent years in attempting attacks on U.S. targets. In 2008, it launched an assault on the U.S. embassy in Sanaa and was responsible for the failed 2010 Christmas Day plot to detonate a bomb hidden a passenger’s underwear aboard a plane landing in Detroit.
But the organization is under increasing pressure. AQAP recently acknowledged the death in a January drone strike of its deputy leader, Said al-Shihri, and many in Yemen expect AQAP to try to avenge his death.
In addition, a U.S.-backed government offensive against Ansar al Shariah, an AQAP-affiliated militant group, has pushed the group from its strongholds in Abyan and Shabwa provinces though it still retains its bastion in Abyan’s mountainous district of al Mahfad.
Analysts say they believe the promotion of AQAP’s head to a major position in the core al Qaida franchise is likely to increase pressure on the group to strike out. (Contributor: By Ali Watkins, David Lightman and Adam Baron for the McClatchy Washington Bureau)
Let our prayers be guided by discernment. Intercessors seek wisdom accompanied by prophetic insights so that we pray “in the Spirit” with divine illumination. Give thanks for security intelligence that uncovers genuine threats; yet U.S. leaders have been fooled before, and security stumbled terribly when administration and State Department officials did not respond to the Benghazi threat, costing the lives of an ambassador and three supporting personnel. All patriots hope – and Christians pray – that this threat does not materialize, yet intercessors stand as “watchmen on the walls.” Our foundational battles are against evil forces “in the heavenlies.”
“On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, until He establishes [His purposes]…” (Isaiah 62:6-7)
“Put on the whole armor of God that you may … stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against … spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places … praying always … in the Spirit, being watchful…” (Eph. 6:11-12)
Past performance is no guarantee of future gain.
That concept, if applied to President Obama’s upcoming decision to pick a new chairman for the Federal Reserve, makes observers wonder if he’ll choose someone who helped him navigate the financial crisis at the start of his presidency (the band-of-seasoned-brothers theory) or turn to someone more removed from his West Wing inner circle and who is a Fed insider.
There’s no doubt the challenges ahead for the central bank will guide Obama’s pick to succeed Ben Bernanke, whose second term as chair ends in January. Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen has discovered new admirers on Capitol Hill — Democratic lawmakers who are both persistent and public with their opinions. And fans of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, including Obama, are not shy about defending the outspoken former Harvard University president, known for his blunt self-confidence.
On Wednesday, responding to questions from House Democrats during a private meeting on Capitol Hill, the president set tongues wagging by erecting himself as a shield for Summers, who has been the target of left-leaning media critiques. Obama also told lawmakers that Yellen, a widely respected economist, former chair of the Clinton-era Council of Economic Advisers, and a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors before that, occupies a spot on his short list. And he mentioned a third candidate, former Fed Vice Chair Donald Kohn, 70, who was Bernanke’s right-hand man as the financial meltdown began in 2008.
On Friday, the New York Times reported what many had assumed — that Obama’s team asked former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner if he would consider the post. Geithner declined.
Educated in international studies and languages, Geithner forged a strong bond with Obama in 2009 and is close to Summers. Previously he led the New York Federal Reserve Bank during Wall Street’s calamitous era of greed and risk-taking. He returned to New York at the end of Obama’s first term.
All of them — Summers, Yellen, Kohn and Geithner — figure in the history of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. This fall, senators and their staffs will comb through a nominee’s statements and speeches to gauge his or her views about the Fed’s unprecedented economic rescue program known as quantitative easing, as well as the central bank’s actions before, during and immediately after the crisis.
So here’s a tip for Fed watchers and researchers: Don’t overlook the official findings, plus audio and interview transcripts, from the report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States, also known as the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. (Full disclosure: This reporter was a member of the FCIC writing team during its final six months.)
And while the chairman and members of the commission also interviewed Summers, commissioners bowed to executive privilege restrictions imposed by Obama’s White House counsel. In speaking with Summers, investigators explored his opinions about the causes of the financial crisis and his well-known opposition in 1998 and 1999 to the Commodity Future Trading Commission’s push to tighten regulation of the derivatives market. In that context, Summers appears on pages 47-48 of the FCIC report. A non-public record of the commission’s interview with him is stored at the National Archives.
The commission in 2011 concluded that the crisis and what Obama now calls the “rubble” — that is, millions of people without jobs, lost savings and millions of foreclosed homes — was never foreordained. The upheaval was not a sudden earthquake. Documented warnings, including data brought to the Fed, were ignored or discounted. The commission’s report described numerous institutions and individuals who recognized a growing storm early on, warned of a potential disaster, and in some cases pleaded in vain with authorities to act.
Commissioners most especially faulted the Federal Reserve for its “pivotal failure to stem the flow of toxic mortgages, which it could have done by setting prudent mortgage-lending standards.” A majority of the 10 commissioners said the Fed was the “one entity empowered to do so and it did not.”
In the years under Alan Greenspan’s leadership and into Bernanke’s tenure, the central bank donned thick blinders. Greenspan, who dominated Fed thinking during the two decades preceding the meltdown, said in the aftermath of the crisis that regulators could not have anticipated and forestalled the crisis. But Bernanke, Greenspan’s successor and an expert on the Great Depression, told the commission that the Fed could have regulated the mortgage market during the prolonged housing boom. “I think it was the most severe failure of the Fed in this particular episode,” he told the FCIC.
This might all be academic history if the unemployment rate wasn’t stuck above 7 percent in 2013; if economic growth was more robust; if the Fed was not still mopping up five years later; and if another crisis wasn’t a lingering worry.
Going forward, many experts view the Fed nomination as the most important executive decision for the economy that Obama will make during his second term. Asked last week if he agreed with that assessment, National Economic Adviser Gene Sperling, who succeeded Summers in the Obama White House and worked with Yellen during Clinton’s second term, paused before answering.
Declining to discuss the private advice he’s shared with Obama about the next Fed chair, Sperling told RCP, “I wouldn’t rank any single economic decision as the most important, but it’s obviously a very important decision.”
One recent newspaper editorial suggested that Obama’s thoughts about Yellen, the consensus-building insider, and Summers, the crises-seasoned outsider, might hinge on the president’s views about how far away from the window ledge the financial system and a weak economy have moved. Obama has been delivering a series of speeches this summer asserting more stable economic footing.
During her November 2010 interview with the FCIC, Yellen told investigators, “The next financial crisis will be something completely different, and will we have the ability to spot it?”
Echoing similar remarks by Summers and Geithner, Yellen said she couldn’t be assured there would never be another crisis; couldn’t promise that the Fed would have better radar next time; and could only prepare to act.
“This is really hard,” she said several times. “I believe we are highly motivated to do a better job.”
Before and during the crash, Yellen was president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, in a state where risky lending was in plain sight. Countrywide Financial — based in Calabasas, Calif., and the nation’s largest mortgage lender at that time — was notorious as a subprime lender and seller of securities to Wall Street. But by 2007, the company had gone regulator-shopping and was not under the San Francisco Fed’s supervision, she noted.
FCIC investigators sought to learn what Yellen, who has described herself as a “non-ideological pragmatist,” understood was happening on Main Street — the runaway lending to businesses, investors and homeowners — during the “madness” years. Why didn’t the nation’s central bank, with a mission “to ensure the safety and soundness of the nation’s banking and financial system and to protect the credit right of consumers,” leap in?
“By 2007, it just seemed to me that credit standards had diminished in every area of lending,” she told the FCIC. “My own perception in the months before the crisis was there was simply a frightening diminution in risk-aversion throughout lending generally. I was giving speeches saying this was frightening.”
So why didn’t she and others inside the Fed, with mountains of in-house data and years of anecdotal soundings about the banks, recognize that the nation’s financial system was sliding off a cliff?
“No one saw how serious this would be,” Yellen said quietly. “I’m not trying to abrogate responsibility for this. … I don’t think that we or anyone else in the government [at the time] had a financial stability mandate. … We certainly could have. There was nothing to my knowledge preventing us from investing more energy and resources in doing this, but I don’t think we were.”
Yellen’s nagging question — whether regulators will spot serious financial instability next time — is perhaps more essential to Obama’s choice than the hand-wringing about a graceful unwinding of the Fed’s bond-buying program. Summers is schooled in what comes after fire breaks out. And Yellen learned from everything the Fed missed when it stood around to watch the smoke. (Contributor: By Alexis Simendinger for Real Clear Politics, Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics.)
The article speaks for itself, and once again intercessors must take the high road and pray into matters far above and beyond the personalities involved in President Obama’s choice for Federal Reserve chairman. The president will get his choice, and the Fed will continue to do what it does. But the focus of intercessory prayer remains on our nation’s welfare and several looming crises, including the economic struggles of the working class; our mounting national debt; the growing debate and division over healthcare; unemployment; and increasing taxation. And the ultimate solution lies in the spiritual realm. Let us pray for another “great awakening,” a transforming spiritual revival born out of a repentant Church willing to be awakened and revived.
“For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)
“Will you not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your mercy, Lord, and grant us Your salvation.” (Psalm 85:6-7)
A proposal to change federal policy on broadcast indecency is denounced by tens of thousands of American viewers, but it is supported by industry leaders who want to see the “zero-tolerance” policy jettisoned.
The tug of war over the Federal Communications Commission policy is not expected to be addressed until after a new FCC chairman and commission member are installed later this year.
But a comment period for the proposal — which ended Friday and collected more than 102,000 responses — showed the deep revulsion many Americans have for vulgarity, profanity and crassness, especially in television programming.
“The ban for profanity and nudity on TV should not be dropped. I think it is awful what comes over the airwaves as it is. Prime time already has things that children and adults should not have to be subjected to,” wrote Doris Grant of Hamilton, Ill., echoing comments made by myriad other parents, grandparents and viewers.
“The FCC asked for the public’s comment and they got it,” said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group for entertainment media. “By a margin of nearly 1,000 to 1, the American public told the FCC to enforce existing broadcast indecency law and not to weaken it,” he said.
Industry leaders, however, asked the FCC to revise their policy.
Boston’s WBUR-FM “never uses potentially profane or indecent language intentionally or gratuitously,” wrote Charles J. Kravetz, general manager of the public radio station.
But during and after the April bombing attack at the Boston Marathon, it was “virtually impossible to report on this unfolding story without the real danger of profanity ending up on the air,” Mr. Kravetz said, adding that fear of hefty fines affected the staff’s news reporting.
The FCC should “return to its historically restrained indecency enforcement scheme under which fleeting words and images were not considered actionably indecent,” wrote lawyers for the ABC Television Affiliates Association.
Moreover, for future complaints, viewers should be required to certify — within a month — that they viewed offensive material on a public broadcast, in the company of a child, before 10 p.m., said lawyers for 14 broadcasters, including Cox Media Group and Allbritton Communications Co.
Current policy holds public broadcasters liable for fines and other punishments for airing nudity and profanity before 10 p.m. As a result, companies have been sanctioned for brief, accidental nudity and curse words uttered on a live awards show.
Cable programming is not included because people must subscribe to it.
The FCC policy proposal follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that overturned some of its indecency fines.
The agency’s next steps are to review the comments and prepare a recommendation to the commissioners, a FCC spokesman said Friday.
Separately, the FCC is awaiting a Senate vote on Thomas Wheeler, President Obama’s nominee for FCC chairman.
Mr. Obama also recently nominated Mike O’Rielly, a staff member of Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, to fill a vacancy on the commission. There are currently two Democrats and a Republican on the five-person commission.
Senate Republicans are expected to hold up Mr. Wheeler’s vote until they are ready to address Mr. O’Rielly’s nomination as well. (Contributor: By Cheryl Wetzstein for The Washington Times)
First, let us give thanks for the 1,000 to 1 ratio in 102,000 comments that strongly urged the FCC to uphold the current decency law and not weaken it. This is praiseworthy before God. Then, let us pray fervently that Christians in the U.S. will lead their churches and prayer groups to intercede, with repentance, for a “tide of righteousness” to sweep across the country in true revival. Historically, wherever revival fires burned brightly, public and private sin decreased as people got saved, forsook sinful ways, and began upholding biblical standards of morality and decency. Third, let us pray that morally sensitive citizens will display their convictions by informing TV networks and their advertising sponsors that such vulgarity will not be tolerated and by withdrawing their support. Finally, pray that Christian parents who have lowered their own standards will repent and keep the increasing trash, smut, and filth on TV out of their homes and from their children.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)
“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’” (2 Tim 2:19)
The U.S. government is quietly pressuring telecommunications providers to install eavesdropping technology deep inside companies’ internal networks to facilitate surveillance efforts.
FBI officials have been sparring with carriers, a process that has on occasion included threats of contempt of court, in a bid to deploy government-provided software capable of intercepting and analyzing entire communications streams. The FBI’s legal position during these discussions is that the software’s real-time interception of metadata is authorized under the Patriot Act.
Attempts by the FBI to install what it internally refers to as “port reader” software, which have not been previously disclosed, were described to CNET in interviews over the last few weeks. One former government official said the software used to be known internally as the “harvesting program.”
Carriers are “extra-cautious” and are resisting installation of the FBI’s port reader software, an industry participant in the discussions said, in part because of the privacy and security risks of unknown surveillance technology operating on an sensitive internal network.
It’s “an interception device by definition,” said the industry participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because court proceedings are sealed. “If magistrates knew more, they would approve less.” It’s unclear whether any carriers have installed port readers, and at least one is actively opposing the installation.
In a statement from a spokesman, the FBI said it has the legal authority to use alternate methods to collect Internet metadata, including source and destination IP addresses: “In circumstances where a provider is unable to comply with a court order utilizing its own technical solution(s), law enforcement may offer to provide technical assistance to meet the obligation of the court order.”
AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast, and Sprint declined to comment. A government source familiar with the port reader software said it is not used on an industry-wide basis, and only in situations where carriers’ own wiretap compliance technology is insufficient to provide agents with what they are seeking.
For criminal investigations, police are generally required to obtain a wiretap order from a judge to intercept the contents of real-time communication streams, including e-mail bodies, Facebook messages, or streaming video. Similar procedures exist for intelligence investigations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has received intense scrutiny after Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the National Security Agency’s PRISM database.
There’s a significant exception to both sets of laws: large quantities of metadata can be intercepted in real time through a so-called pen register and trap and trace order with minimal judicial review or oversight. That metadata includes IP addresses, e-mail addresses, identities of Facebook correspondents, Web sites visited, and possibly Internet search terms as well.
“The statute hasn’t caught up with the realties of electronic communication,” says Colleen Boothby, a partner at the Washington, D.C. firm of Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby who represents technology companies and industry associations. Judges are not always in a position, Boothby said, to understand how technology has outpaced the law.
Judges have concluded in the past that they have virtually no ability to deny pen register and trap and trace requests. “The court under the Act seemingly provides nothing more than a rubber stamp,” wrote a federal magistrate judge in Florida, referring to the pen register law. A federal appeals court has ruled that the “judicial role in approving use of trap and trace devices is ministerial in nature.”
A little-noticed section of the Patriot Act that added one word — “process” — to existing law authorized the FBI to implant its own surveillance technology on carriers’ networks. It was in part an effort to put the bureau’s Carnivore device, which also had a pen register mode, on a firmer legal footing.
A 2003 compliance guide prepared by the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association reported that the Patriot Act’s revisions permitted “law enforcement agencies to use software instead of physical mechanisms to collect relevant pen register” information.
Even though the Patriot Act would authorize the FBI to deploy port reader software with a pen register order, the legal boundaries between permissible metadata and impermissible content remain fuzzy.
“Can you get things like packet size or other information that falls somewhere in the grey area between traditional pen register and content?” says Alan Butler, appellate advocacy counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “How does the judge know the box is actually doing? How does the service provider know? How does anyone except the technician know what’s going on?”
An industry source said the FBI wants providers to use their existing CALEA compliance hardware to route the targeted customer’s communications through the port reader software. The software discards the content data and extracts the metadata, which is then provided to the bureau. (The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, requires that communication providers adopt standard practices to comply with lawful intercepts.)
Whether the FBI believes its port reader software should be able to capture Subject: lines, URLs that can reveal search terms, Facebook “likes” and Google+ “+1s,” and so on remains ambiguous, and the bureau declined to elaborate this week. The Justice Department’s 2009 manual (PDF) requires “prior consultation” with the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section before prosecutors use a pen register to “collect all or part of a URL.”
“The last time I had to ask anybody that, they refused to answer,” says Paul Rosenzweig, a former Homeland Security official and founder of Red Branch Consulting, referring to Subject: lines. “They liked creative ambiguity.”
Some metadata may, however, not be legally accessible through a pen register. Federal law says law enforcement may acquire only “dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information” without obtaining a wiretap. That clearly covers, for instance, the Internet Protocol address of a Web site that a targeted user is visiting. The industry-created CALEA standard also permits law enforcement to acquire timestamp information and other data.
But the FBI has configured its port reader to intercept all metadata — including packet size, port label, and IPv6 flow data — that exceeds what the law permits, according to one industry source.
In 2007, the FBI, the Justice Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration asked the Federal Communications Commission for an “expedited rulemaking” process to expand what wireless providers are required to do under CALEA.
The agencies said they wanted companies to be required to provide more information about Internet packets, including the “field identifying the next level protocol used in the data portion of the Internet datagram,” which could reveal what applications a customer is using. The FCC never ruled on the law enforcement request.
Because it’s relatively easy to secure a pen register and trap and trace order — they only require a law enforcement officer to certify the results will likely be “relevant” to an investigation — they’re becoming more common. The Justice Department conducted 1,661 such intercepts in 2011 (PDF), up from only 922 a year earlier (PDF).
That less privacy-protective standard is no accident. A U.S. Senate report accompanying the pen register and trap and trace law said its authors did “not envision an independent judicial review of whether the application meets the relevance standard.” Rather, the report said, judges are only permitted to “review the completeness” of the paperwork.
Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a former federal public defender, said he’s concerned about port reader software doing more than the carriers know. “The bigger fear is that the boxes are secretly storing something,” he said, “or that they’re doing more than just simply allowing traffic to sift through and pulling out the routing information.”
“For the Feds to try to push the envelope is to be expected,” Fakhoury said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that we have laws in place to govern this behavior for a good reason.” (Contributors: By Declan McCullagh for CNET)
Here the challenge for intercessors is to cut through political rhetoric and seek divine wisdom to pray into a complex issue. Scripture tells us God appoints governments, that its representatives are to be protectors of law-abiding citizens, that only evil-doers ought to fear, and that all are accountable to Him. Sadly, “rulers” do overstep their boundaries, and dictators treat their subjects cruelly. God will one day judge all injustice and inequity. Let us, then, intercede that the laws of the U.S. will apply equally to the governed and to those that govern; that citizens are protected, not mistreated; and that justice will triumph under restrained – not increased – government authority. Pray that Americans will not be forced to sacrifice God-given freedoms to unreasonable government infringement.
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1)
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream…” (Amos 5:24)
A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.
The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.
“I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.
“It is one thing to create special rules for national security,” Gertner said. “Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”
THE SPECIAL OPERATIONS DIVISION
The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.
Today, much of the SOD’s work is classified, and officials asked that its precise location in Virginia not be revealed. The documents reviewed by Reuters are marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive,” a government categorization that is meant to keep them confidential.
“Remember that the utilization of SOD cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function,” a document presented to agents reads. The document specifically directs agents to omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony. Agents are instructed to then use “normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD.”
A spokesman with the Department of Justice, which oversees the DEA, declined to comment.
But two senior DEA officials defended the program, and said trying to “recreate” an investigative trail is not only legal but a technique that is used almost daily.
A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. “You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.
After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as “parallel construction.”
The two senior DEA officials, who spoke on behalf of the agency but only on condition of anonymity, said the process is kept secret to protect sources and investigative methods. “Parallel construction is a law enforcement technique we use every day,” one official said. “It’s decades old, a bedrock concept.”
A dozen current or former federal agents interviewed by Reuters confirmed they had used parallel construction during their careers. Most defended the practice; some said they understood why those outside law enforcement might be concerned.
“It’s just like laundering money – you work it backwards to make it clean,” said Finn Selander, a DEA agent from 1991 to 2008 and now a member of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which advocates legalizing and regulating narcotics.
Some defense lawyers and former prosecutors said that using “parallel construction” may be legal to establish probable cause for an arrest. But they said employing the practice as a means of disguising how an investigation began may violate pretrial discovery rules by burying evidence that could prove useful to criminal defendants.
A QUESTION OF CONSTITUTIONALITY
“That’s outrageous,” said Tampa attorney James Felman, a vice chairman of the criminal justice section of the American Bar Association. “It strikes me as indefensible.”
Lawrence Lustberg, a New Jersey defense lawyer, said any systematic government effort to conceal the circumstances under which cases begin “would not only be alarming but pretty blatantly unconstitutional.”
Lustberg and others said the government’s use of the SOD program skirts established court procedures by which judges privately examine sensitive information, such as an informant’s identity or classified evidence, to determine whether the information is relevant to the defense.
“You can’t game the system,” said former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. “You can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases. If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw it?”
Some lawyers say there can be legitimate reasons for not revealing sources. Robert Spelke, a former prosecutor who spent seven years as a senior DEA lawyer, said some sources are classified. But he also said there are few reasons why unclassified evidence should be concealed at trial.
“It’s a balancing act, and they’ve doing it this way for years,” Spelke said. “Do I think it’s a good way to do it? No, because now that I’m a defense lawyer, I see how difficult it is to challenge.”
CONCEALING A TIP
One current federal prosecutor learned how agents were using SOD tips after a drug agent misled him, the prosecutor told Reuters. In a Florida drug case he was handling, the prosecutor said, a DEA agent told him the investigation of a U.S. citizen began with a tip from an informant. When the prosecutor pressed for more information, he said, a DEA supervisor intervened and revealed that the tip had actually come through the SOD and from an NSA intercept.
“I was pissed,” the prosecutor said. “Lying about where the information came from is a bad start if you’re trying to comply with the law because it can lead to all kinds of problems with discovery and candor to the court.” The prosecutor never filed charges in the case because he lost confidence in the investigation, he said.
A senior DEA official said he was not aware of the case but said the agent should not have misled the prosecutor. How often such misdirection occurs is unknown, even to the government; the DEA official said the agency does not track what happens with tips after the SOD sends them to agents in the field.
The SOD’s role providing information to agents isn’t itself a secret. It is briefly mentioned by the DEA in budget documents, albeit without any reference to how that information is used or represented when cases go to court.
The DEA has long publicly touted the SOD’s role in multi-jurisdictional and international investigations, connecting agents in separate cities who may be unwittingly investigating the same target and making sure undercover agents don’t accidentally try to arrest each other.
SOD’S BIG SUCCESSES
The unit also played a major role in a 2008 DEA sting in Thailand against Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout; he was sentenced in 2011 to 25 years in prison on charges of conspiring to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC. The SOD also recently coordinated Project Synergy, a crackdown against manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of synthetic designer drugs that spanned 35 states and resulted in 227 arrests.
Since its inception, the SOD’s mandate has expanded to include narco-terrorism, organized crime and gangs. A DEA spokesman declined to comment on the unit’s annual budget. A recent LinkedIn posting on the personal page of a senior SOD official estimated it to be $125 million.
Today, the SOD offers at least three services to federal, state and local law enforcement agents: coordinating international investigations such as the Bout case; distributing tips from overseas NSA intercepts, informants, foreign law enforcement partners and domestic wiretaps; and circulating tips from a massive database known as DICE.
The DICE database contains about 1 billion records, the senior DEA officials said. The majority of the records consist of phone log and Internet data gathered legally by the DEA through subpoenas, arrests and search warrants nationwide. Records are kept for about a year and then purged, the DEA officials said.
About 10,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents have access to the DICE database, records show. They can query it to try to link otherwise disparate clues. Recently, one of the DEA officials said, DICE linked a man who tried to smuggle $100,000 over the U.S. southwest border to a major drug case on the East Coast.
“We use it to connect the dots,” the official said.
“AN AMAZING TOOL”
Wiretap tips forwarded by the SOD usually come from foreign governments, U.S. intelligence agencies or court-authorized domestic phone recordings. Because warrantless eavesdropping on Americans is illegal, tips from intelligence agencies are generally not forwarded to the SOD until a caller’s citizenship can be verified, according to one senior law enforcement official and one former U.S. military intelligence analyst.
“They do a pretty good job of screening, but it can be a struggle to know for sure whether the person on a wiretap is American,” the senior law enforcement official said.
Tips from domestic wiretaps typically occur when agents use information gleaned from a court-ordered wiretap in one case to start a second investigation.
As a practical matter, law enforcement agents said they usually don’t worry that SOD’s involvement will be exposed in court. That’s because most drug-trafficking defendants plead guilty before trial and therefore never request to see the evidence against them. If cases did go to trial, current and former agents said, charges were sometimes dropped to avoid the risk of exposing SOD involvement.
Current and former federal agents said SOD tips aren’t always helpful – one estimated their accuracy at 60 percent. But current and former agents said tips have enabled them to catch drug smugglers who might have gotten away.
“It was an amazing tool,” said one recently retired federal agent. “Our big fear was that it wouldn’t stay secret.”
DEA officials said that the SOD process has been reviewed internally. They declined to provide Reuters with a copy of their most recent review. (Contributors: By John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke for Reuters News Service, Edited by Blake Morrison)
We encourage intercessors always to look for the bigger picture, to ask God for wisdom in their praying, and to intercede from His eternal perspective. Intercessors are those who stand in the gap, praying for righteousness to motivate national leaders, and who seek mercy, with repentant hearts, for where we and our government have strayed from biblical principles. Is the U.S. a “sheep nation” or a “goat nation”? (Most discerning believers would say “goat.”) If, then, the latter, is there yet time for Christians to prevail, to seek God’s mercy, and to intercede for an entire national turn-around? Those are our challenges. “It is time to seek the Lord.” Let us pray big prayers, expecting big results.
“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until He comes and showers His righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12)
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will freely pardon.” (Isa. 55:6-7)
Israel reportedly offered to waive nearly $55 million in US aid in light of considerable cuts Washington made to defense budget.
Israel has offered to waive nearly $55 million in US aid for its missile defense programs, the Defense News website reported over the weekend.
Defense officials in Israel declined to comment on the report.
According to U.S.-based Defense News, in light of the considerable cuts Washington has made to its defense budget, Jerusalem has sought to shoulder its part in the new, harsher financial reality. The U.S. cut $37 billion from its defense budget this fiscal year and is expected to cut $52b. in 2014.
The Israeli offer came despite a commitment by U.S. President Barack Obama to leave aid for Israeli missile defense programs untouched.
U.S. aid has contributed to the development of the Arrow 3 system, which is designed to intercept ballistic missiles in space. It has also helped fund the lower-tier Arrow 2 interception program, as well as David’s Sling, designed to shoot down intermediate-range rockets and cruise missiles, and the Iron Dome system for short-range threats.
The U.S. gave Israel $211m. for development of the Arrow 3 system in 2012 and will transfer $269m. this year. It has earmarked a further $250m. to contribute to the production of four Arrow 3 batteries and is expected to examine a request for four more batteries at a cost of $680m.
Future batteries of the system are expected to have more interceptors, making them more expensive. In recent months, amid tension with Iran, Israel has stepped up the Arrow 3’s development and production rate.
According to Defense News, Israel was also slated to receive $213.9m. for David’s Sling.
In June, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel would not object to a five-percent cut in its annual military assistance from the US. (Contributor: By YAAKOV LAPPIN for The Jerusalem Post)
Israel continues to fortify itself in the light of its many international challenges. We give thanks for this gesture of partnership with the U.S., as Israel is counting on continued support from the West, principally from our government. As intercessors, it is helpful to imagine what it would be like for us as Americans if most of the surrounding nations not only wanted us destroyed, but, in some cases, had the means to carry out such a lethal threat. Let us intercede for restraint on the part of Israel’s enemies and indentify with this nation fighting for its existence. Let us continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they be secure who love you. Peace be within your walls and security within your towers. For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’ For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.” (Psalm 122:6-9)
A few characters on the side of a 3,000-year-old earthenware jug dating back to the time of King David have stumped archaeologists until now — and a fresh translation may have profound ramifications for our understanding of the Bible.
Experts had suspected the fragmentary inscription was written in the language of the Canaanites, a biblical people who lived in the present-day Israel. Not so, says one expert who claims to have cracked the code: The mysterious language is actually the oldest form of written Hebrew, placing the ancient Israelites in Jerusalem earlier than previously believed.
“Hebrew speakers were controlling Jerusalem in the 10th century, which biblical chronology points to as the time of David and Solomon,” ancient Near Eastern history and biblical studies expert Douglas Petrovich told FoxNews.com.
“Whoever they were, they were writing in Hebrew like they owned the place,” he said.
First discovered near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem last year, the 10th century B.C. fragment has been labeled the Ophel Inscription. It likely bears the name of the jug’s owners and its contents.
If Petrovich’s analysis proves true, it would be evidence of the accuracy of Old Testament tales. If Hebrew as a written language existed in the 10th century, as he says, the ancient Israelites were recording their history in real time as opposed to writing it down several hundred years later. That would make the Old Testament an historical account of real-life events.
According to Petrovich, archaeologists are unwilling to call it Hebrew to avoid conflict.
“It’s just the climate among scholars that they want to attribute as little as possible to the ancient Israelites,” he said.
Needless to say, his claims are stirring up controversy among those who do not like to mix the hard facts of archaeology — dirt, stone and bone — with stories from the Bible.
Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein told FoxNews.com that the Ophel Inscription is critical to the early history of Israel. But romantic notions of the Bible shouldn’t cloud scientific methods — a message he pushed in 2008 when a similar inscription was found at a site many now call one of King David’s palaces.
At the time, he warned the Associated Press against the “revival in the belief that what’s written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper.”
Today, he told FoxNews.com that the Ophel Inscription speaks to “the expansion of Jerusalem from the Temple Mount, and shows us the growth of Jerusalem and the complexity of the city during that time.” But the Bible? Maybe, maybe not.
Professor Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University agrees that some archaeologists are simply relying too heavily on the Bible itself as a source of evidence.
“[Can we] raise arguments about the kingdom of David and Solomon? That seems to me a grandiose upgrade,” he told Haaretz recently.
In the past decade, there has been a renaissance in Israel of archaeologists looking for historical evidence of biblical stories. FoxNews.com has reported on several excavations this year claiming to prove a variety of stories from the Bible.
Most recently, a team lead by archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel wrapped up a ten-year excavation of the possible palace of King David, overlooking the valley where the Hebrew king victoriously smote the giant Goliath.
Garfinkel has another explanation as to the meaning behind the Ophel Inscription.
“I think it’s like a [cellphone] text,” Garfinkel told FoxNews.com. “If someone takes a text from us 3,000 years from now, he will not be able to understand it.”
The writing on the fragmented jug is a type of shorthand farmers of the 10th century used, in his opinion, and not an official way of communication that was passed on.
“What’s more important is that there is a revolution in this type of inscription being found,” Garfinkel told FoxNews.com. There have been several from the same time period found across Israel in the past five years.
“When we find more and more of these inscriptions, maybe not until the next generation, we may have a breakthrough,” he said. (Contributor: By Sasha Bogursky for Fox News)
Bible-believing Christians do not need archeological “evidence” to strengthen their confidence in biblical truth, including Israel’s history. Every honest historian knows there is more hard evidence for the existence of King David and the Davidic era than for the Greek poet Homer, who – in history books – is simply identified as “a mystery” because so little is known about him. Archeology reports such as this bring joy to intercessors, as they force the historical community to acknowledge the authenticity of the biblical record. Let us give thanks, then, and pray for more related findings, not only to bolster believers’ faith, but to engender faith among unbelievers. Pray that such evidence will lead many, through the biblical record, to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
“Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)
“I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart … and give thanks to Your name for Your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for You have magnified Your name above all things by Your word.” (Psalm 138:1-2)