FOIA Strengthened, Hoover's Mass Arrests Plan,
FBI's New Biometric Database
Revealing News Articles
December 26, 2007
Below are key excerpts of important news articles you may have missed. These articles include revealing information on passage of a new bill by the US Congress that has strengthened the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), long-time FBI Director J. Edgar Hoovers's mass arrests plan in 1950, the FBI's new plan to create a vast biometric database of the US population, and more. Each excerpt is taken verbatim from the major media website listed at the link provided. If any link fails to function, click here. Key sentences are highlighted for those with limited time. By choosing to educate ourselves and to spread the word, we can and will build a brighter future.
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Hoover Planned Mass Jailing in 1950
December 23, 2007, New York Times
A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty. Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons. Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to "protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage." The F.B.I would "apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous" to national security, Hoover's proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under "a master warrant attached to a list of names" provided by the bureau. The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. "The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States," he wrote. "In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus," it said. Habeas corpus, the right to seek relief from illegal detention, has been a fundamental principle of law for seven centuries. Hoover's plan called for "the permanent detention" of the roughly 12,000 suspects at military bases as well as in federal prisons. The prisoners eventually would have had a right to a hearing under the Hoover plan. The hearing board would have been a panel made up of one judge and two citizens. But the hearings "will not be bound by the rules of evidence," his letter noted. The only modern precedent for Hoover's plan was the Palmer Raids of 1920, named after the attorney general at the time. The raids, executed in large part by Hoover's intelligence division, swept up thousands of people suspected of being communists and radicals.
Note: For understandable reasons, many are concerned at how the current administration has weakened habeas corpus in recent years. Any cititzen who is declared an enemy combatant is no longer protected.
FBI Prepares Vast Database Of Biometrics
December 22, 2007, Washington Post
The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad. Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to ... identify [people]. The increasing use of biometrics for identification is raising questions about the ability of Americans to avoid unwanted scrutiny. It is drawing criticism from those who worry that people's bodies will become de facto national identification cards. "It's going to be an essential component of tracking," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's enabling the Always On Surveillance Society." The FBI's biometric database ... communicates with the Terrorist Screening Center's database of suspects and the National Crime Information Center database, which is the FBI's master criminal database of felons, fugitives and terrorism suspects. At the West Virginia University Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR) ... researchers are working on capturing images of people's irises at distances of up to 15 feet, and of faces from as far away as 200 yards. Soon, those researchers will do biometric research for the FBI. Covert iris- and face-image capture is several years away, but it is of great interest to government agencies.
Note: For many important major-media reports on threats to privacy, click here.
Freedom of Information Act strengthened
December 19, 2007, Baltimore Sun/Associated Press
Congress struck back yesterday at the Bush administration's trend toward secrecy since the 2001 terrorist attacks, passing legislation to toughen the Freedom of Information Act and increasing penalties on agencies that don't comply. It [will] be the first makeover of the FOIA in a decade, among other things bringing nonproprietary information held by government contractors under the law. The legislation also is aimed at reversing an order by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, in which he instructed agencies to tend against releasing information when there was uncertainty about how doing so would affect national security. "No matter who is the next president, he will have to run a government that is more open than in the past" ... said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee. Supporting changes in the law were dozens of news outlets, including the Associated Press. "After years of growing government secrecy, today's vote reaffirms the public's fundamental right to know," said Rick Blum of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, which represents 10 news organizations. The bill restores a presumption of disclosure standard committing government agencies to releasing requested information unless there is a finding that such disclosure could do harm. Agencies would be required to meet a 20-day deadline for responding to FOIA requests. If they fail to meet the 20-day deadline, agencies would have to refund search and duplication fees for noncommercial requesters. They also would have to explain any redaction by citing the specific exemption under which the deletion qualifies. Nonproprietary information held by government contractors also would be subject to the law.
Note: For powerful reports exposing government secrecy, click here.
Asteroid on track for possible Mars hit
December 21, 2007, Los Angeles Times
Talk about your cosmic pileups. An asteroid similar to the one that flattened forests in Siberia in 1908 could plow into Mars next month, scientists said. Researchers attached to NASA's Near-Earth Object Program, who sometimes jokingly call themselves the Solar System Defense Team, have been tracking the asteroid since its discovery in late November. The scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ... put the chances that it will hit the Red Planet on Jan. 30 at about 1 in 75. A 1-in-75 shot is "wildly unusual," said Steve Chesley, an astronomer with the Near-Earth Object office, which routinely tracks about 5,000 objects in Earth's neighborhood. "We're used to dealing with odds like one-in-a-million," Chesley said. "Something with a one-in-a-hundred chance makes us sit up straight in our chairs." The asteroid, designated 2007 WD5, is about 160 feet across, which puts it in the range of the space rock that exploded over [Tunguska,] Siberia. That explosion, the largest impact event in recent history, felled 80 million trees over 830 square miles. The Tunguska object broke up in midair, but the Martian atmosphere is so thin that an asteroid would probably plummet to the surface, digging a crater half a mile wide, Chesley said. The impact would probably send dust high into the atmosphere. Depending on where the asteroid hit, such a plume might be visible through telescopes on Earth. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is mapping the planet, would have a front-row seat. And NASA's two JPL-built rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, might be able to take pictures from the ground. Such a collision on Mars would produce a "scientific bonanza," Chesley said. The possibility of an impact has the Solar System Defense Team excited. "Normally, we're rooting against the asteroid," when it has Earth in its cross hairs, Chesley said. "This time we're rooting for the asteroid to hit."
At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star
December 19, 2007, New York Times
Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T. And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace. Professor Lewin's videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise. "Through your inspiring video lectures i have managed to see just how BEAUTIFUL Physics is, both astounding and simple," a 17-year-old from India e-mailed recently. Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube's greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple's iTunes Store. In his lectures at ocw.mit.edu, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics. Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet – nerd safari garb – he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall. He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts off. "We have here the mother of all pendulums!" he declares, hoisting [himself] on a 30-pound steel ball attached to a [rope] hanging from the ceiling. He swings across the stage, holding himself nearly horizontal as his hair blows in the breeze he created. The point: that [the] period of a pendulum is independent of the mass – the steel ball, plus one professor – hanging from it.
If a Scandal Has Legs, It's on the List
December 18, 2007, Washington Post
Tough competition for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's inaugural list of the year's top 10 ethics scandals. The government watchdog's list, posted at http://www.citizensforethics.org, pays special attention to scandals that appear likely to blow into something bigger next year, said Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director. The list "seemed like a good way at the end of the year to keep track of what happened and what's on the horizon," Sloan said. The scandals, with headings taken from the CREW report, are not listed in order of magnitude. They're all pretty bad, the CREW people say. 1. No new enforcement mechanisms for congressional ethics. 2. Ted Stevens still sitting on Senate Appropriations. 3. Senate Ethics Committee looking into Sen. Larry Craig, but not Sen. David Vitter. 4. Millions of missing White House e-mails still unaccounted for. 5. Rep. Murtha's abuse of the earmarking process remains unchecked. 6. Lurita Doan remains chief of GSA despite illegal conduct. 7. White House ... covering up its role in the firings of the U.S. attorneys. 8. No Child Left Behind funds directed to Bush fundraisers who provide inadequate reading materials for kids. 9. Court decision regarding search of Jefferson's office limits ability of Justice Department to investigate corrupt lawmakers. 10. FEMA knowingly let Katrina victims live in hazardous trailers.
Note: For a treasure trove of powerful reports on government corruption, click here.
Synthetic DNA on the Brink of Yielding New Life Forms
December 17, 2007, Washington Post
Until recently ... even the most sophisticated laboratories could make only small snippets of DNA -- an extra gene or two to be inserted into corn plants, for example, to help the plants ward off insects or tolerate drought. Now researchers are poised to cross a dramatic barrier: the creation of life forms driven by completely artificial DNA. Scientists in Maryland have already built the world's first entirely [artificial] chromosome -- a large looping strand of DNA made from scratch in a laboratory. In the coming year, they hope to transplant it into a cell, where it is expected to [be able to direct] the waiting cell to do its bidding. And while the first synthetic chromosome is a plagiarized version of a natural one, others that code for life forms that have never existed before are already under construction. The cobbling together of life from synthetic DNA, scientists and philosophers agree, will be a watershed event, blurring the line between biological and artificial -- and forcing a rethinking of what it means for a thing to be alive. That unprecedented degree of control over creation raises more than philosophical questions, however. What kinds of organisms will scientists ... make? How will these self-replicating entities be contained? And who might end up owning the patent rights to the basic tools for synthesizing life? Some experts are worried that a few maverick companies are already gaining monopoly control over the core "operating system" for artificial life and are poised to become the Microsofts of synthetic biology. That could ... place enormous power in a few people's hands. "Ultimately synthetic biology means cheaper and widely accessible tools to build bioweapons, virulent pathogens and artificial organisms that could pose grave threats to people and the planet," concluded a recent report by the Ottawa-based ETC Group, one of dozens of advocacy groups that want a ban on releasing synthetic organisms pending wider societal debate and regulation.
Note: Remember that top secret government programs are usually at least a decade ahead of anything reported to the public. To read more on the dangers of genetically modified organisms, click here.
Social Networking for the Socially Minded
December 17, 2007, Washington Post
The office of Razoo on Connecticut Avenue blends two distinct cultures common in Washington. It has the feeling of an Internet start-up, what with programmers clicking away, big flat screens, an espresso machine and funky green carpet. Yet the photos on the walls from Rwanda and other poor countries and the 11 employees, age 23 to 33, suggest it could just as easily be a nongovernmental organization. The combination is no mistake. Razoo is a company that has built a Web site to connect people with one another, much like social networking giants MySpace and Facebook, but in support of humanitarian objectives such as preventing homelessness in the United States and helping families who live in a Nicaragua trash dump. Users and causes each have their own pages. "YouTube is transforming TV. Google has transformed advertising," said Razoo founder J. Sebastian Traeger. "The Web will do the same thing for philanthropy." Traeger ... is following in the footsteps of several other Internet entrepreneurs who are trying to reinvent philanthropy. They hope to apply the tools of the digital age -- such as social networking and peer-to-peer and viral marketing -- to an industry long criticized for its slow-moving ways. Risks abound. The for-profit companies are operating in a nonprofit world. "While the fusion of commercial values and non-commercial values makes sense and has promise, it's not going to be this magical cure," said Jeff Trexler, a Pace University professor who has studied the phenomenon. By merging social networks and philanthropy, the idea is that people will be more likely to give money or support to a certain cause if their friends do. The Internet also holds the promise of cutting down on bureaucracy and the high administrative and marketing costs associated with raising money.
The President's Coming-Out Party
December 15, 2007, Harper's magazine
This has been an important week in the torture debate in America. It has been the week of the President's coming-out party. This week, a CIA agent, John Kiriakou, appeared, first on ABC News and then in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, and explained just how the system works. When we want to torture someone (and it is torture he said; no one involved with these techniques would ever think anything different), we have to write it up. The team leader of the torture team proposes what torture techniques will be used and when. He sends it to the Deputy Chief of Operations at the CIA. And there it is reviewed by the hierarchy of the Company. Then the proposal is passed to the Justice Department to be reviewed, blessed, and it is passed to the National Security Council in the White House, to be reviewed and approved. The NSC is chaired, of course, by George W. Bush, whose personal authority is invoked for each and every instance of torture authorized. And, according to Kiriakou as well as others, Bush's answer is never "no." He has never found a case where he didn't find torture was appropriate. Here's a key piece of the Kiriakou statement: LAUER: "Was the White House involved in that decision?" KIRIAKOU: "Absolutely, this isn't something done willy nilly. It's not something that an agency officer just wakes up in the morning and decides he's going to carry out an enhanced technique on a prisoner. This was a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and Justice Department." He then goes into the process in considerable detail. Watch the video here. So now the process can be fully diagrammed, and the cast of characters is stunning. The torture system involves the operations division of the CIA on the implementation side. The Justice Department is right in the thick of it. And finally the White House. David Addington, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley–these are all names we can now link directly to the torture system. They decided who would be tortured and how.
The Court That May Not Be Heard
December 15, 2007, New York Times
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the special court that reviews government requests for warrants to spy on suspected foreign agents in the United States, seems to have forgotten that its job is to ensure that the government is accountable for following the law – not to help the Bush administration keep its secrets. Last week, the court denied a request by the American Civil Liberties Union to release portions of past rulings that would explain how it has interpreted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The court should share its legal reasoning with the public. After the 9/11 attacks, the National Security Agency for years engaged in domestic spying that violated both FISA and the Constitution. Earlier this year, after a court ruled that the program was illegal, the Bush administration said that in the future it would conduct surveillance with the approval of the intelligence court. At the same time, it announced that a judge of the court had issued orders setting out how the program could proceed. The administration has repeatedly referred to these orders, but has refused to make them public. As a result, it is impossible for the American people – and even some members of Congress – to know how the court reached its conclusions, or the state of the law with respect to domestic surveillance. The idea of courts developing law in secret and handing down legal principles that the public cannot know about should not be part of the American legal system. That is especially true when the subject matter is as important as the government spying on its citizens, an issue the founders – who drafted the Fourth Amendment – cared about deeply. The people have a right to know how the act, which is in the process of being revised, is being interpreted so they can tell their elected representatives what they think the law should be.
A way to squeeze oil and gas from just about anything
December 2007, Popular Science magazine
Everything that goes into Frank Pringle's recycling machine – a piece of tire, a rock, a plastic cup – turns to oil and natural gas seconds later. "I've been told the oil companies might try to assassinate me," Pringle says without sarcasm. The machine is a microwave emitter that extracts the petroleum and gas hidden inside everyday objects. Every hour, the first commercial version will turn 10 tons of auto waste – tires, plastic, vinyl – into enough natural gas to produce 17 million BTUs of energy (it will use 956,000 of those BTUs to keep itself running). Pringle created the machine about 10 years ago after he drove by a massive tire fire and thought about the energy being released. He went home and threw bits of a tire in a microwave emitter he'd been working with for another project. It turned to what looked like ash, but a few hours later, he returned and found a black puddle on the floor of the unheated workshop. Somehow, he'd struck oil. Or rather, he had extracted it. Petroleum is composed of strings of hydrocarbon molecules. When microwaves hit the tire, they crack the molecular chains and break it into its component parts: carbon black (an ash-like raw material) and hydrocarbon gases, which can be burned or condensed into liquid fuel. If the process worked on tires, he thought, it should work on anything with hydrocarbons. The trick was in finding the optimum microwave frequency for each material. In 2004 he teamed up with engineer pal Hawk Hogan to take the machine commercial. Their first order is under construction in Rockford, Illinois. It's a $5.1-million microwave machine the size of small bus called the Hawk, bound for an auto-recycler in Long Island, New York. Oil companies are looking to the machines to gasify petroleum trapped in shale.
Note: For many exciting breakthroughs in new energy technologies, click here.
Secret Santa's Legacy Lives On
December 21, 2007, CBS News/Associated Press
Susan Dahl had spent four months homeless in Colorado and just been on a harrowing 10-hour bus trip through sleet and snow. Hungry and broke, all she wanted to do was get back to family in Minnesota. That's when a tall man in a red coat and red hat sat next to her at the downtown bus station, talked to her quietly and then slipped her $100 on that recent December afternoon. The man was doing the work of Larry Stewart, Kansas City's original Secret Santa who anonymously wandered city streets doling out $100 bills to anyone who looked like they needed it. Stewart died of cancer at age 58 earlier this year, but his legacy lives on. "He said 'Here's a $100 bill ... and this is in memory of Larry Stewart,'" said Dahl, 56. During about a quarter century, Stewart quietly gave out more than $1.3 million to people in laundromats, diners, bus stations, shelters and thrift stores, saying it was his way of giving back at Christmas for all the wealth and generosity he had received in his lifetime. For years, Stewart did not want his name known or want thanks or applause, but last December he acknowledged who he was and used his last few months while battling cancer to press his message of kindness toward others. He even trained some friends in the ways of Secret Santa. This Christmas, a friend who told Stewart in the hospital that he would carry on for him is out on the streets, handing out $100 bills, each one stamped with "Larry Stewart, Secret Santa." Between Kansas City and several other cities this Christmas, the new Secret Santa will give away $75,000 of his own money, mostly in $100 bills. "I didn't want to be a Secret Santa," said the man, a business consultant who lives in the Kansas City area. "I wanted to give Larry money. But last year, he said I had to hand it out myself. So I did, and I got hooked. Anyone can be a Secret Santa," he says. "You don't have to give away $100. You can give away kindness. Help someone."
Special note: There is much more to the CIA's destruction of its torture videotapes than is being reported in the press. Why is the Bush administration stonewalling any real investigation of the matter? In an effort to answer these questions, contributors to the History Commons Project are compiling a detailed timeline about the scandal. To read this important timeline, click here. On another note, CBS News/Associated Press has reported that the brother of Dennis Kucinich, a progressive presidential candidate not beholden to the power elite, was found dead at the age of 52. Strange.
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FOIA Strengthened, Hoover's Mass Arrests Plan, FBI's New Biometric Database