Sen. Ron Wyden Warns of Fake Surveillance Reform and the Economic Harm of US Mass Spying

US Sen. Ron Wyden, in a Guardian article he wrote based on his speech at a Cato Institute event this week, reinforces RPI’s warnings that efforts to reform the US government mass spying program “provide an excellent opportunity to make bad legislation worse” and that the spying “threatens American companies’ business prospects in the international marketplace.”

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Cop in Tank: Freeze, Drop that Steak!

In the continuing rise of SWAT, police in Napoleon Dynamite’s hometown now have a tank. William N. Grigg, in his latest article at Pro Libertate, explores the small Idaho town’s acquisition of the military armored vehicle at no cost and the ominous US government program that is helping militarize police departments all over the country. Grigg writes:

Preston, Idaho is a town of roughly 5,000 people that earned brief notoriety a decade ago as the setting for the whimsical film “Napoleon Dynamite.” It is blessedly devoid of violent crime, and has no need for its six-officer police department.

Yet Chief Ken Geddes believes that Preston’s superficial placidity disguises the potential for apocalyptic violence. At least that’s what he’s saying to pre-empt potential criticism of his decision to acquire a combat-grade armored vehicle from the Department of Homeland Security.

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Canada Joins US in the Hot Seat for Industrial Espionage

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff, after condemning US government mass spying on Brazilian companies in her speech last month before the United Nations General Assembly, is now singling out the Canada government for engaging in industrial espionage targeting Brazil’s mines and energy ministry. The Associated Press reports on Rousseff’s concerns, as well as the Brazil foreign minster’s discussion of the spying with Canada’s ambassador to Brazil at a meeting Monday:

Brazil has demanded clarifications from the Canadian government about allegations that its spies targeted Brazil’s mines and energy ministry, in what the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, said appeared to be an act of industrial espionage.

The foreign minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, summoned the Canadian ambassador to “transmit the indignation of the Brazilian government and demand explanations,” the foreign ministry said in a statement following the revelations, broadcast on Sunday night on Brazil’s Globo network.

The report said the metadata of phone calls and emails to and from the ministry were targeted by Canada‘s Communications Security Establishment (CSE). It did not indicate if emails were read or phone calls listened to.

The report was based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and follows revelations that the US and the UK had also targeted Brazil..

During Monday’s meeting, Figueiredo’s statement expressed “the government’s repudiation of this serious and unacceptable violation of national sovereignty and the rights of people and companies”.

As noted in the Globe and Mail, whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelation of Canada’s involvement in the spying included releasing a slide presentation by a member of the Canada government intelligence agency Communications Security Establishment Canada at a June 2012 meeting of the Five Eyes—a spying cooperation and sharing organization of the governments of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and the United States. As the Globe and Mail article explains, the slides reveal the Brazilian ministry was targeted for snooping:

Using a program called Olympia, CSEC took aim at Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, describing it as a “new target to develop” despite “limited access/target knowledge.”

Nevertheless, in the US, President Barack Obama and some of the legislators charged with overseeing the US mass spying program continue to assure us the program’s focus is on counter-terrorism.

There is no reason to believe US intelligence agencies are somehow immune from the lobbying and revolving doors that create huge payoffs for private companies seeking profits through government connections instead of competition. In fact, the secretiveness of intelligence budgets and operations—secure from regular oversight and public scrutiny—make intelligence programs more, not less, subject to corruption.

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Judge Andrew Napolitano Explains the FISA Court Scam

Judge Andrew Napolitano, an RPI Advisory Board member, explains the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court scam in his latest masterful column. Napolitano reviews the evidence and concludes that the FISA court, which is routinely referenced to legitimate the US government mass spying program, “is unconstitutional at best and not even a court at worst.”

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Exposing the Prison Profiteers

As would be expected in the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world, the US prison-industrial complex is large and powerful. Yet, the companies that gain from the explosion in jail and prison populations over the last few decades largely remain hidden in the shadows. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with The Nation and Beyond Bars, began rolling out a series of short videos titled Prison Profiteers that promises to expose the workings of the prison-industrial complex.

The first video in the series—the only video released so far—addresses phone system monopolies that charge inmates’ families and friends exorbitant rates to communicate with their incarcerated loved ones. It is heartbreaking to watch nine year old Kenny Davis explain in the video that the high cost of a phone call prevents him from talking even once a week with his father, who it would take a four hour drive to visit in person.

Watch the video here.

While the video conveys the problem well, the political action suggested—the Federal Communication Commission imposing price caps on state and local jail and prison inmates’ in-state calls— is problematic. While expanding the FCC power will help address the immediate problem, it takes the liberty-precarious step of strengthening the US government’s bureaucracy.

Continue reading at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Guatemala President Otto Fernando Pérez Molina Praises Marijuana Legalization

Guatemala President Otto Fernando Pérez Molina in his speech Thursday before the United Nations General Assembly praised the marijuana legalization bill progressing through the Uruguay national government as well as marijuana legalization adopted via popular votes in the US states of Colorado and Washington.

The portion of Pérez Molina’s speech addressing to the international war on drugs follows:

Since the start of my Government, we have clearly affirmed that the war against drugs has not borne the desired results, and that we cannot continue doing the same, waiting for different results.

Continue reading at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Is TSA Frisking and Scanning Coming to the Local Mall?

Will American families soon spend Saturday mornings waiting in line for US Transportation Security Administration friskings and scannings outside the local shopping center? We can hope not. But, Miranda Green reports in the Daily Beast that the US Department of Homeland Security is “urging shopping malls in the United States to increase security in the aftermath of the carnage wrought by al Qaeda’s Somalia affiliate over the weekend in Nairobi.”

Continue reading at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff Condemns US Mass Spying before UN General Assembly

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff started the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly with fireworks Tuesday, using her first speaking position among national government leaders to condemn US government spying on the people of her nation and of many other nations. Rousseff explained in the English written version of her speech:

We face, Mr. President, a situation of grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties; of invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate activities, and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty.

We expressed to the Government of the United States our disapproval, and demanded explanations, apologies and guarantees that such procedures will never be repeated.

Friendly governments and societies that seek to consolidate a truly strategic partnership, as in our case, cannot allow recurring illegal actions to take place as if they were normal. They are unacceptable.

Continue reading at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Ron Paul Speech is LPAC Highlight

The Ron Paul Institute capped off the Liberty Political Action Conference (LPAC) with a reception Saturday evening attended by many conference participants who had earlier visited the RPI outreach booth. The highlight of the conference was RPI Founder and CEO Ron Paul’s speech. Watch the speech here. Immediately preceding Dr. Paul’s speech, RPI Executive Director Daniel McAdams and RPI contributor Adam Dick participated in a panel discussion reflecting on Paul’s time in the US House of Representatives. McAdams and Dick worked twelve and ten years respectively in Dr. Paul’s House office.

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Did Sen. Reid Let Slip Secret Plan to Use Navy Yard Killings as Excuse for New Medical Privacy Violations?

There is reason for concern that the US Congress and the National Rifle Association may soon  work together to use the Washington, DC Navy Yard killings earlier this week as an excuse to expand a US government database of all Americans’ private medical information.

The day after the Navy Yard killings, US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was talking about bringing expanded gun transfer background checks to a vote in the Senate. Bloomberg reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he’ll schedule another vote to expand firearms background checks “as quickly as we can” when enough members support the bill. Reid said at the moment, the Senate lacks enough votes to pass the legislation.

The Bloomberg article then proceeds to discount the possibility of such legislation advancing, saying gun control legislation failed to pass in the Senate earlier this year and quoting one gun control writer who absolutely rejects the possibility:

“The chance of any movement on this issue now is zero,” said Robert Spitzer, author of four books on the history of gun control. “That wind blew itself out politically.”

But, an alternative, secret plan appears to be in the works. Roll Call reports:

The Nevada Democrat [Reid] said he might be willing to move a mental-illness gun bill without a background check expansion, but that comment was quickly walked back by an aide who sent around guidance that Reid does not, in fact, intend to pass a mental-illness gun bill without expanded background checks.

Reid’s public comments seem to have gotten ahead of the public relations plan for a mental health database focused bill.

Reid will likely find it a much easier path pursuing gun control legislation focused on mental health instead of a broad gun control expansion such as was considered during the abandoned floor debate on the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act (S.649) in April.

A starting point may be the NICS Reporting Improvements Act (S.480), which was introduced in March by four Republican and Democrat senators — Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), and Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas). As these four senators make clear in their press release announcing the introduction of the legislation, the legislation is intended to prevent more people from being able to posses guns by expanding the mental health database used in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Continue reading at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.