Judge rules secret FBI national security letters unconstitutional
SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge has struck down a set of laws allowing the FBI to issue so-called national security letters to banks, phone companies and other businesses demanding customer information.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said the laws violate the First Amendment and the separation of powers principles and ordered the government to stop issuing the secretive letters or enforcing their gag orders, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The FBI almost always bars recipients of the letters from disclosing to anyone — including customers — that they have even received the demands, Illston said in the ruling released Friday.
The government has failed to show that the letters and the blanket non-disclosure policy "serve the compelling need of national security," and the gag order creates "too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted," the San Francisco-based Illston wrote.
A Department of Justice spokesman told the Journal the department was "reviewing the order."
FBI counter-terrorism agents began issuing the letters, which don't require a judge's approval, after Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The case arises from a lawsuit that lawyers with the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed in 2011 on behalf of an unnamed telecommunications company that received an FBI demand for customer information.
"We are very pleased that the court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute," EFF lawyer Matt Zimmerman said. "The government's gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience."
Illston wrote that she was also troubled by the limited powers judges have to lift the gag orders.
Judges can eliminate the gag order only if they have "no reason to believe that disclosure may endanger the national security of the United States, interfere with a criminal counter-terrorism, or counterintelligence investigation, interfere with diplomatic relations, or endanger the life or physical safety of any person."
That provision also violated the Constitution because it blocks meaningful judicial review.
Illston ordered the FBI to cease issuing the letters, but put her order on hold for 90 days so the U.S. Department of Justice can appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Illston isn't the first federal judge to find the letters troubling. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York also found the gag order unconstitutional, but allowed the FBI to continue issuing them if it made changes to its system such as notifying recipients they can ask federal judges to review the letters.
Illston ruled Friday that it's up to Congress, and not the courts, to tinker with the letters.
In 2007, the Justice Department's inspector general found widespread violations in the FBI's use of the letters, including demands without proper authorization and information obtained in non-emergency circumstances. The FBI has tightened oversight of the system.
The FBI made 16,511 national security letter requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011, the latest data available. The FBI uses the letters to collect unlimited kinds of sensitive, private information like financial and phone records.
U.S. Is Bolstering Missile Defense to Deter North Korea
by THOM SHANKER , DAVID E. SANGER and MARTIN FACKLER
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will spend $1 billion to deploy additional ballistic missile interceptors along the Pacific Coast to counter the growing reach of North Korea's weapons, a decision accelerated by Pyongyang's recent belligerence and indications that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, is resisting China's efforts to restrain him.
The new deployments, announced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday, will increase the number of ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska to 44 from 30 by 2017.
The missiles have a mixed record in testing, hitting dummy targets just 50 percent of the time, but officials said Friday's announcement was intended not merely to present a credible deterrence to the North's limited intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal. They said it is also meant to show South Korea and Japan that the United States is willing to commit resources to deterring the North and, at the same time, warn Beijing that it must restrain its ally or face an expanding American military focus on Asia.
“There's been a quickening pace of provocations,” said one senior administration official, describing actions and words from North Korea and its new leader, Mr. Kim. “But the real accelerant was the fact that the North Koreans seemed more unmoored from their Chinese handlers than even we had feared.”
Although American and South Korean intelligence officials doubt the North is close to being able to follow through on a nuclear strike, or that it would even try, given its almost certain destruction, analysts say the country's aggressive behavior is an important and worrying sign of changing calculations in the North.
In interviews over recent days, Obama administration officials described internal debates at the White House and the Pentagon about how strongly to react to the recent provocations. It is a delicate balance, they said, of defending against real potential threats while avoiding giving the North Koreans what one official called “the satisfaction of seeming to make the rest of the world jumpy.”
In announcing the deployments at a Pentagon news conference, Mr. Hagel cited North Korea's third test of nuclear weapons technology last month, the successful test of a long-range missile that sent a satellite into space, and the discovery that a new generation of mobile missiles appeared closer to development.
“We will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression,” Mr. Hagel said.
All 14 of the new interceptors will be placed in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, where 26 interceptors are already deployed. Four others are at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
North Korea has always been an unpredictable, provocative dictatorship. But even by its own standards, the isolated Communist regime's recent decision to nullify a wartime cease-fire and weeks of increasingly hyperbolic warnings, including of a pre-emptive nuclear strike, appear to have crossed new and dangerous lines.
Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke at the Pentagon on Friday and described how the United States was deliberately building a two-tiered system of deterrence against North Korea.
The United States will “put the mechanics in place to deny any potential North Korean objectives to launch a missile to the United States, but also to impose costs upon them if they do,” Admiral Winnefeld said.
In an unusually pointed warning to the new North Korean leader, Admiral Winnefeld added, “We believe that this young lad ought to be deterred by that — and if he's not, we'll be ready.”
The arguments for bolstering the limited missile defense were symbolic of the larger problem.
The antimissile systems are considered less than reliable, and some administration officials were reluctant to pour additional resources into deploying more of the existing technology.
But in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the commander of the United States Strategic Command, made clear they serve a larger purpose. “Deterring North Korea from acting irrationally is our No. 1 priority,” he said. He acknowledged that there were doubts that the 30 existing antimissile systems would be sufficient, and added that an additional site in the United States, on the East Coast, may be needed to deter Iran.
But the new deployment is also intended to send a signal to China, which tried but failed to block the more recent nuclear test, to rein in the North. “We want to make it clear that there's a price to be paid for letting the North Koreans stay on the current path,” a senior official said Friday.
The North's new leader, some analysts say, is intensifying the threats because he has failed to get the Obama administration and its South Korean allies to return to an established pattern in which the North provoked and the allies followed with much-needed economic aid in return for Pyongyang's promises to finally halt its nuclear weapons program.
But a growing number of experts believe North Korea also views its recent advances in missile and nuclear technology as game changers that will allow it to build the nuclear arsenal it desperately wants, both as a deterrent against better-armed enemies and a cudgel to extract more concessions and possibly even international recognition.
“Developing nuclear weapons gives North Korea a chance to turn the tables in one stroke,” said Cheong Seong-chang, an expert on North Korea at the Sejong Institute. “They can get around the weakness of their economy and their outdated conventional weapons.”
The short-term risk, analysts say, is that the North's chest-thumping will lead to another round of limited conventional military skirmishes with the South that could get out of control and, in the worst case, draw in the United States. With a new leader in South Korea under political pressure to stand up to her country's longtime enemy, the risks are especially high.
The main newspaper of North Korea's ruling party, Rodong Sinmun, recently gave the North's own explanation for its actions. “Let the American imperialists and their followers know!” the paper said. “We are not a pushover like Iraq or Libya.”
Some missile-defense experts express deep skepticism about the capability of the ground-based interceptors deployed in California and Alaska.
“It remains unclear whether these ground-based interceptors can work effectively, and they should be subjected to much more rigorous field testing before taxpayer resources are spent on a system that is ineffective,” said Tom Z. Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, an advocacy group here.
James N. Miller, the Pentagon's under secretary for policy, said the new missiles would have to show success before they would be deployed. “We will continue to stick with our ‘fly before we buy' approach,” Mr. Miller said, citing a successful test as recently as Jan. 26. George Lewis, an antimissile missile expert at Cornell University, said 15 flight tests of the defensive system have tried to hit targets, and only eight have succeeded.
The Defense Department's interceptors in California and Alaska are to blunt a long-range missile threat from North Korea. The United States also deploys Patriot Advanced Capability batteries in South Korea for defense of targets there, and the South fields an older model of the Patriot.
Japan is developing its own layered missile-defense system, which includes Aegis warships and Patriot systems as well.
The United States deploys one advanced TPY-2 missile-defense tracking radar in Japan to enhance early warning across the region and toward the West Coast, and it has reached agreement to deploy a second.
And the Navy also recently bolstered its deployment of ballistic missile defense warships in waters off the Korean Peninsula, although the vessels were sent as part of an exercise even before the increase in caustic language from the North. As part of the Foal Eagle military exercise with South Korea, the Navy has four Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers in the region.
Counter-Insurgency “Community Policing” Coming to Kitchener
Community to fight back with protest march and people's report
by BASICS News
Police are taking lessons from the British occupation of Northern Ireland, and applying them to poor communities in Southern Ontario. This is the chilling conclusion of BASICS Kitchener-Waterloo's research into the new PAVIS (Provincial Anti-Violence Strategy) model being deployed in Kitchener.
PAVIS supposedly focuses on crime prevention and building relationships with youth and mobilizing communities, however, it is actually about using counter-insurgency tactics to police communities in Canada.
In November, Kitchener community activist Julian Ichim attended a conference held by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD)—a body which is supposed to investigate complaints about police. Yet, the main purpose of the meeting was for OIPRD to promote a community policing model based on counter-insurgency techniques. Expert speaker, Dr. Webb, claimed that this model of policing is effective in Northern Ireland.
At a conference that was supposed to ‘consult' with the community, Ichim says “Half the delegates walked out in disgust at their voices being silenced.”
The OIPRD is an allegedly independent body from the police force. But the board doesn't seem to have much independence: “It's funded by the government, and one out of every two people who works there is an ex-cop,” Ichim said.
New police strategy similar to Toronto's Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS)
Kitchener's PAVIS is basically the same as Toronto's Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS). This is a model of intensive police repression on targetted poor and racialized communities which has been used for the past few years in Toronto. It also resembles the model of counter-insurgency policing that Dr. Webb was referring to at the OIPRD conference.
Last year, a Toronto a police superintendent attended a Jane and Finch Crisis Support Network meeting to intimidate the community. The group's purpose is to discuss police brutality and safety in Jane and Finch—a working-class area in Toronto and designated TAVIS area. At the meeting, the police officer verbally attacked the group's chair, Sabrina ‘Butterfly' Gopaul, and many community members were forced to leave the meeting visibly upset.
Similar encounters have started to occur during meetings on police brutality in Kitchener. Dianne, an activist, recounted: “We had a call-out for people to go to the Queen Street Commons [generally a safe haven for organisers] for people to talk about their experience with police brutality. The Police came right in, tried to chat people up, and took our fliers.”
March Against Police Brutality
Kitchener-Waterloo is not taking PAVIS laying down: fighting back is the priority for this year's annual day against police brutality.
Joey, a coordinator of the March Against Police Brutality, said, “Our focus this year is to release a People's Report in response to the OIPRD report.”
The people's report will be a consultation not run by OIPRD police sympathizers. The community is also planning a protest on March 15—the 16th annual International Day Against Police Brutality.
“Our main mission is to raise awareness of how much police brutality there is and how very little is done about it,” Dianne, one of the coordinators said.
At last year's anti-police brutality demonstration in Kitchener, police used horses to push the crowd, including young children, off the public road.
Kitchener-Waterloo's 3rd annual March Against Police Brutality will take place on March 15, 5pm at City Hall. All are welcome.