News you may have missed #474

  • Israel jails Arab activist for spying. A court in Haifa has sentenced prominent Israeli Arab activist Ameer Makhoul to nine years in prison and another year suspended sentence for charges of spying and contacting a foreign agent from Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
  • Assange used disguise to evade surveillance new book reveals. WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange disguised himself as an old woman in a wig for fear he was being followed by US intelligence, according to a book published this week by British quality broadsheet The Guardian. According to another book, to be published by journalists at German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel, Assange expressed private fears that the content of the US embassy cables was too explosive for his organization to withstand.
  • US Congressman wants to know who wants to know. Republican Representative Darrell Issa wants to know the names of hundreds of thousands of ordinary American citizens who have requested copies of federal government documents in recent years. Issa, the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, saying he simply wants to “make sure agencies respond in a timely fashion to Freedom of Information Act requests”. Hmmm…

Analysis: Experts question legality of CIA drone strikes

Predator drone

Predator drone

A number of prominent American legal scholars have voiced concerns about the legality of the targeted killings by the CIA of suspected Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Speaking last week before the National Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittee of the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, some of the experts warned that the killings may constitute war crimes. Among them was Loyola Law School Professor David Glazier, who reminded subcommittee members that the CIA remotely navigated drone pilots are not legally considered combatants, and thus employing them to carry out armed attacks “fall[s] outside the scope of permissible conduct”. He also warned that “under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes”. Read more of this post

US officials sought ‘national security’ clause to keep bailout details secret

Securities and Exchange Commission logo

SEC logo

US officials in charge of regulating securities exchanges sought to apply a ‘national security’ clause to information relating to the government’s bailout of giant insurance company American International Group (AIG). Emails obtained by Reuters show that, in November of 2008, the New York Federal Reserve (NYFR), which administered the bailout, collaborated with AIG in requesting that US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officials apply “special security procedures” to shield bailout-related information from public scrutiny. Instead of dismissing the –possibly illegal– request, SEC officials advised NYFR and AIG to publicly file heavily redacted versions of the documents in question, and request “confidential treatment” for the redacted portions, citing ‘national security’ clauses. Read more of this post

US whistleblowing legislation gets little media attention

Unlike American news outlets, the US intelligence community is paying a lot of attention right now to HR 1507, known as the 2009 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. The act is currently making the rounds at two US House of Representatives committees, namely the Oversight and Government Reform and the Homeland Security committee. There was an interesting debate yesterday morning at the Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing, where proponents and opponents of HR 1507 focused on the bill’s provisions protecting the rights of whistleblowers in the intelligence and security services. Under current legislation (the 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, or ICWPA), there is a large gap separating the rights of intelligence and security whistleblowers from those of other government employees. Read more of this post

Waxman sides with CIA on Iraq intelligence dispute

For several years, disgraced former US Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, have maintained that the CIA approved the routine use in Presidential speeches of dubious intelligence on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Recently, George W. Bush upheld to these claims by blaming the US intelligence community for the false information on Iraqi WMD. Now the chair of the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), has written a memo [pdf] containing the results of his investigation on the matter. In it, Rep. Waxman explains that “the CIA had warned at least four National Security Council officials not to allow Bush, in three speeches in 2002, to cite questionable intelligence that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium”. Read more of this post

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