Why PRISM Matters

By Piper Bayard

I could list the civil liberties we have lost since 9/11, from security against unreasonable search and seizure to the officially sanctioned vilification of those who exercise their right to bear arms, but that would be a dissertation and not a blog. The sum total result, however, can be expressed in one sentence:  The balance of power has shifted.

PRISM protest at Checkpoint Charlie image by Digitale Gesellschaft

PRISM protest at Checkpoint Charlie
image by Digitale Gesellschaft

In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government answers to the people. Its operations and the governing subset are subject to the scrutiny of the public. The people are secure from search and seizure—even in their communications—by the ruling subset of the population, and the people have the right and the ability to overthrow that subset by elections should the government grab too much power. The people are the masters, and the government is their servant.

When the government spies on us with everything from street corner cameras to DHS agents on our highways that perform warrantless searches of random individuals to collection and analysis of our every electronic transmission and phone communication, we are no longer the masters, and the government is no longer our servant. It is our ruler. It is a parent searching our rooms and opening our mail on the off chance that we MIGHT be doing something it doesn’t want us to do.

The difference between the government being the servant and the government being the master is a warrant. When an agency such as the NSA, FBI, DHS, etc., is required to obtain a warrant, an official paper trail is created by which the people can make the government answer for who and how it searches, why it searches, and what it obtains. It is a record by which citizens can hold the government accountable for its actions in a court of law.

With PRISM, every email, every phone communication, every bank transaction, every purchase involving a credit card, debit card, or check, and, once Obamacare is fully implemented, every health record is collected on all Americans. When trigger words* like “snow,” “bust,” or “sick” alert analysts, countless individuals who work for the government and in the private sector are free to peruse and interpret the threads of our lives at their personal discretion. Everything they do is off the record. No probable cause. No warrant. No accountability to the public. It is the act of a ruler, not the act of a servant.

Even with the evidence out about PRISM, our president claims that his administration is not spying on Americans. Yet he also states unapologetically that his administration will continue to collect and analyze all of our private communications with no probable cause or warrant to do so—in the name of “safety.” He is only admitting that much because of Snowden’s leaks. The true question lies in the things our president is not admitting.

Photo by Jeff Schuler wikimedia commons

Photo by Jeff Schuler
wikimedia commons

In 1972, America was shaken to its core by Nixon’s one warrantless wire tap. PRISM is a warrantless wire tap of every American and foreigner within our borders. Each and every one of us is now assumed guilty until proven innocent. Each and every one of us now answers to the government master that was once our servant. I’m not saying we shouldn’t spy on terrorists within or without our borders. I’m saying let there be warrants. Let there be public records. Let there be accountability. Do not allow the government to exercise such omnipotent power with impunity.

Prior to PRISM and to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, warrantless searches were allowed under urgent circumstances, but the after the search, the government agents involved still had to make a record and show probable cause retroactively. In most cases, terrorist investigators working in the US had plenty of time to take the few minutes needed to get a warrant from an on-call judge. There is no known history of any case in which the requirement for a warrant prevented investigators from acting in time.

Freedom is about dignity and responsibility—it is not about perfect security from cradle to grave. When we abdicate our responsibility for our freedom in favor of comfort and the illusion of safety, an illusion the Boston bombing should have shattered, we also surrender our dignity and our choices. We become wards of the state. What were once our rights as responsible adults are now merely our privileges as subjects, granted or withheld by our rulers at their whim and discretion. We must demand more of our leaders. Freedom can be won, and freedom can be surrendered, but Freedom will never be given back once successfully taken by the ruling class. PRISM is that taking.

*Department of Homeland Security Analyst’s Desktop Binder

Benghazi: An Intelligence Perspective

Perspective on Benghazi

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*

Image of burning US Consulate in Benghazi by Voice of America employee, public domain.

On September 11, 2012, Islamic terrorists attacked the US Consulate in Benghazi. They murdered US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans during the attack. We extend our condolences to the loved ones of those four Americans who lost their lives in service to their country.

Within twenty-four hours of the attack, both President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated that the incident was not a terrorist attack, but rather a spontaneous assault carried out by angry Libyans who were protesting against an anti-Islamic video produced by an Egyptian expatriate in the US.

In the weeks since the attack, the White House and State Department told the public, contrary to their original statements, that the attacks were an organized assault carried out by international terrorists. The public, along with the families of the four dead Americans, are questioning why a US Consulate in a well known danger spot like Benghazi was left with so little security.

The administration is still repeating the mantra that “the attack was unprecedented.” Apparently, these youngsters remain unaware of the November 1979 attack on the US Embassy in Tehran. Note to Self: Send son’s middle school textbook and DVD of Argo to White House.

Within days of the attack, the public learned that Ambassador Stevens had endorsed the Benghazi Consulate’s requests for increased security and passed them on to Washington. We know that request made it as far as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. I’m not yet certain if the request made it to President Obama’s desk. However, the White House, with the cooperation of the major media outlets, played down the allegations that security was denied from the top and claimed that the lack of security was caused instead by “Republican budget cuts” of State Department security funds. The White House also claimed that “all the intelligence” indicated there was no need for increased security.

I found both of these statements worrisome because as political hot air goes, they seem fairly flimsy and desperate. After decades of listening to the statements issued forth from our various administrations, I know that often times that sort of flimsiness in White House denials indicates a concern for brewing scandals.

Most Americans are aware that all federal budgets and omnibus spending bills require the final approval of the US President so the budget excuse was at best nonsensical, and at worst an indication of deeper troubles. As for “all the intelligence” which indicated no need for increased security, the White House and the Secretary of State were both aware of two failed bombing attempts against the Benghazi Consulate that occurred April 6 and June 2, only a few months before the successful September 11 attack.

On October 26, FOX News broke an exclusive story that quoted sources from within the CIA who were involved in the rescue of US consulate staff. According to those CIA sources, CIA personnel requested military assistance three specific times during the attack and were denied.

Originally, this denial was blamed on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta alone. We now know that Panetta was in a meeting with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilan approximately one hour after the start of the attack. This was hours before the third denial of assistance and well before at least two of our Americans were killed. I can’t imagine Panetta would not have mentioned the ongoing assault to our nation’s two top officials and requested their input since they were, after all, sitting in the same room as a drone fed real time imagery to the White House. If he did not mention it, one has to wonder what, exactly, was more important to them at that moment.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responded to the FOX News piece by claiming that he and the president lacked enough information to justify sending US troops “into harms way.” This response doesn’t explain why he and the president were willing to leave the US personnel in Benghazi in harm’s way by denying them assistance from the massive US military assets in the Mediterranean.

These assets included two combat-ready Air Mobile/Airborne Special Forces teams close to Libya on call in Italy, and the powerful Naval Air and Marine forces of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet, including the Sixth Fleet drone capability. Fighter strikes from Italy could have been accomplished within, at most, an hour and a half of the start of the incident. Also, with minimal air support, our people could have been evacuated more easily and safely.

Panetta’s claim that the administration lacked “enough information” is inconsistent with the fact that they knew about two prior bombing attacks on the Benghazi Consulate, and it is a direct contradiction of the fact that they received real time imagery from the drone on site. It is also a direct contradiction of the fact that eight US security personnel were sent by charter plane from Tripoli to rescue the Benghazi staff during the incident. How is it that the administration had enough information to send the team from Tripoli, but not enough information to employ any of the vast military assets that were available and may have saved some of the American lives lost in the attack and the ensuing rescue operation?

CIA sources also said CIA employee Tyrone Woods used a laser to illuminate a terrorist mortar team that was firing on the Consulate. As an ex-Navy SEAL, Woods would not have exposed his laser by illuminating a target unless he expected an air unit such as an armed drone, Navy F/A-18, or an Air Force Spectre gun ship to fire on the target right away. Permission for that fire would have come from Commander of Forces in Africa US Army General Carter Ham or any of his superiors, such as Defense Secretary Panetta or President Obama. Revocation of that permission, which Woods apparently had reason to believe was issued, could only have come from those same people, as well.

Sensibly, some members of the press have turned to the CIA for answers. Of course, asking the CIA questions when you are not the president or a member of a Congressional Intelligence Committee can lead to less than satisfying results. So far, the CIA has skillfully managed to strongly deny all of the allegations that have not been made.

In the long and proud CIA tradition of honestly answering anything but the question being asked, CIA Director General David Petraeus sternly denies that the CIA failed to respond to calls for help from the Benghazi Consulate. He does not, however, confirm or deny what requests for military assistance were made by CIA personnel in Benghazi. Thanks Dave. That really clarifies things. Keep up the good work.

Most press members know better than to ask questions of the NSA. The NSA might well have recordings of all the relevant communications from and to Benghazi, but getting that out of the NSA would be more difficult than mining diamonds on Pluto.

So far, the president has dodged the questions raised by the FOX News story by simply saying what amounts to, “I never did that.” He has left any other talking to Panetta.

Panetta claims that questions being asked “amount to Monday morning quarterbacking.” This answer is convenient for him and the Obama administration, and it is being well received by the Democratic Party faithful. But those voters who feel less constrained in their political choices might not find Panetta’s response an adequate substitution for an explanation or accountability, and the fact is that no presidential candidate can be elected solely by the votes of their party’s faithful. For either Romney or Obama to win the election, they will need the votes of those Americans who are willing to vote without regard for the labels “Democrat,” “Republican,” “liberal,” “progressive,” or “conservative.”

Based on the information thus far available, it appears the administration decided to respond to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi with as minimal response as possible. I suspect this has everything to do with the fact that Obama was reluctant to initiate military activity on a new front so close to the election when so much of his base is anti-war under all circumstances. His minimalist approach turned out to be a bad guess, and it is now becoming clear to the public that said guess was made against the advice of his people on the ground.

Naturally, the president may be reluctant to be seen as expanding military operations into new areas, but the message he sent with his non-action was that Americans will not act militarily to protect their own on foreign soil. This is no doubt extremely encouraging to all of our terrorist enemies, as well as to the Iranian government as it rapidly approaches nuclear capability.

With time and a little interest from members of Congress, more facts will surface and a clearer picture will emerge. How much time that will take is a key question. On November 6, the administration might realize the benefits of its strategy of dodging questions concerning the Benghazi debacle, but the questions are significant enough to lose Obama some votes. In fact, the President might find himself back in the community organizing business next January.

What happened in Benghazi matters. It matters to the families; it matters to our Americans abroad; it matters to our enemies; it matters to the public, and it matters to our political future as a nation. How much it matters to the election, however, will depend on the reaction of those Americans who will vote independently this November.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at@piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at piperbayard@yahoo.com

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

What Is the World Situation, and How Do We Ensure Democracy?

By Jay Holmes

Hi, Samuel. Thank you for your thoughtful response. You covered many topics. Let me start with your two questions:

  1. What kind of situation is the world in for in the immediate future?
  2. What changes can be made to our foreign policy to assure peaceful and democratic rule?

The future is not clear, but I will give you my personal guess. I think the White House will take a reactive approach to the current crisis and will simply try to negotiate with whatever power takes over in any of the countries in question. In the meantime the president will spend more time on the phone then he would care to.

The junta in Tehran is terrified that the USA will act forcefully in the Mediterranean and in Arabia. While I enjoy their grief, I think they are wrong. Remember, Obama ran on an “anti-interventionist” platform. Like any president seeking re-election, he must not lose his voter base. If he intervenes forcefully, his liberal democrat base abandons him, and nothing he does will gain him many votes from the pro-military option crowd.

If an Islam-fascist junta does not come to power in Egypt, then one is not likely in Libya. Libya has the oil and the cash, but Egypt has the military might to topple any Libyan junta if they should decide to. The Egyptians will be less conservative in their response to what happens to Libya.

In Iran, I think the majority of Iranians will remain outside looking in at power for the immediate future. The Iranian junta has a more fanatically loyal military than either Libya or Egypt. The junta has the guns and is always ready, and actually ecstatic, to use them. Killing dissidents represents nothing more than the ongoing daily entertainment for the barbaric and ruthless Iranian junta.

I say “junta” because President “Imadinnerjacket” is no more in charge of Iran than I am. He is the junta’s best attempt at a charismatic mouth-piece that looks good in a suit. They missed on both counts. He looks like he visits the same tailor that Uncle Momo does. I think his speech writer must be Charles Manson. I hope that I am wrong about Iran. The Iranian people deserve a better government and a better life.

As to your second question, the short answer is that there is no magic bullet for ensuring democracy in other nations. We are still struggling to ensure it in our own nation.

The question has been prominent in the minds of every US administration since Woodrow Wilson. I am sure that the French Socialists would remind us that France invented the practice of exporting democracy (no doubt in a conference room at Diem Bien Phu) along with inventing oxygen, sunlight, and fashion. The French don’t actually do any of it. They simply like to tell the rest of us how we should be doing it. The British would point to the Magna Carta, but the British are a bit more realistic about the realities of the democracy export industry. All of the Western world’s great political minds have thus far not come up with a surefire plan for guarantees of freedom and democracy. Nonetheless, I am glad that most of us support the notion that we should.

On the economic side of things, expect higher gasoline prices. BP never gives up easily, but they might pull out of Libya in the next few days. If oil production decreases by as much as a drop, the oil companies will, with a well practiced straight face, announce that they have to increase prices. They will cry all the way to the bank, and like the gasoline addicts that we are, we will grumble as we fork over the cash.

I am curious about your “cohort.” If he/she knows about nonpublic information concerning both the State Department and the CIA your cohort would have to be well placed. Are they a member of the National Security Council or a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee or similarly placed? If so, they should not be sharing classified information. I think that you and I share a respect for, and a hope for, democracy. Based on that common value, I encourage you to report anyone releasing classified information to the FBI. Regardless how any of us may have voted, most of us do not want to make the administration’s job harder by violating secrecy in the middle of a crisis.

If they are not so well placed, you might ask them what they mean by “completely blown it again.” Both of those government entities make mistakes frequently, but both of them have publicly been warning us about unrest in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and Yemen for several years. In my opinion the State Department has acted unwisely by waiting so long to issue travel warnings for Libya. The catch is that we do not get to know what the State Department advised the White House, or when they advised the White House (at least not for a while). The warnings are routinely approved by the president before they are issued. I am curious about who made the decision to issue that warning so late in the day. Although I am always up for a bit of good old fashioned State Department bashing, I have to admit that this might not have been their fault.

You raise some concerns that are on the minds of many Westerners tonight. I share your enthusiasm for spreading democracy, and, more specifically, freedom and justice. From my personal experiences, I will say that it is easier said than done, and successes are never obvious, but failure always is. Much blood suffering and treasure was expended in Central America trying to convince despots to become less despotic while trying to keep worse despots from taking over. We succeeded more than we failed, but at a high price. The highest price was paid by civilians.

Not everyone in the USA feels that we should be using our resources to influence events in other nations. The USA has always had a strong instinct for isolationism. We do not ignore that instinct easily.

To what extent the USA attempts to influence political events will remain a contentious debate in congress forever, as it should. Personally, I am not an isolationist because I want to survive, and I want my grandchildren (and yours) to have a free and decent country to live in. I want that for every child in the world. I believe that most Westerners would want that as I well. Unfortunately, most of the world’s new children will not be born into freedom or justice tomorrow morning. I hope that, when the dust settles a bit over the next few months, despotism and cruelty toward innocents will have been reduced.

Let me share a fond memory with you in the hopes of providing a laugh. Upon returning to the USA from a trip to Bosnia, someone in the White House said to me, “If we can bring a little law and order there, it will really be a great achievement.”

I responded enthusiastically with, “Yea, when we’re done there, can we send a few troops to Los Angeles or Detroit to establish a little law and order there? A little law and order here in the district would be nice too.” I laughed, then he relaxed and laughed. Then I got a few hours of sleep and went back to work.