Saturday, December 24, 2005

Letter From a Military Mom: Domestic Spying & Incident of Intimidation of Military Families

Letter From a Military Mom: Domestic Spying & Incident of Intimidation of Military Families

By Jack Dalton

12/24/05 "ICH" -- -- It wasn?t that long ago that the military command in Iraq started pulling computer access to various units. Seems some of the troops were writing emails home to family, to friends, to various anti-war groups and the like, and the military was getting a bit disconcerted by that. After all, can?t have your own troops pretty much turning the ?official news? on its head now can you? So what do you do? You shut them up and any way that you can. Let them know they are monitored works pretty good.
But, what about the ?moms? back home that are writing on the internet? Moms like Robin Vaughan, whose letter detailing her recent experiences with the Department of Defense and the Army is below.

Moms writing back and forth to ?sons and daughters? in Iraq, who might ?slip? and tell ?mom? what life is really like in Iraq; Can?t have that now, can we? What if the ?moms? start telling others what their sons and daughters are telling them (at least the ones that are still able to access a computer). Can?t have that people might turn against the war ON Iraq. I guess we better threaten and intimidate the moms so they?ll keep their mouths shut, stay off the internet and just go home and be a mom. Doesn?t matter to the military these moms only wanted to do what moms do, especially military moms, worry and take advantage of the internet to chat with sons and daughters.

This is pretty much what has happened to Robin Vaughan, the mother of a young man who was in Iraq. We have a DoD and Pentagon (military) that has become the foreign policy ?setter?, and enforcement arm for the Bush/Cheney cabal--(you know, the guy who said, with a smirk, that he broke the law then pretty much asked, what are you going to do about it?)--that is now attempting to eliminate the rights, the very speech of a group of mothers with sons and daughters in Iraq.

Read Robin?s letter. Write her. Give her your support?what has been done to her and the other mothers in her group cannot go unanswered! This will only get worse the longer we delay in taking this nation back from the crooks, thugs in whose hands it now is in. Too many Iraqi?s; too many of our own; just too many, period have been killed and maimed already! Now moms are being threatened?what next? (Definitely a rhetorical question)

Robin?s letter came to me thru VAIW (Veterans Against the Iraq War). I have since exchanged a couple of emails with Robin and phone calls, and plan on helping her get this story out?read her letter and join me. ?- Jack Dalton


Letter From A Military "Mom": Domestic Spying & Incident of Intimidation of Military Families

By: Robin Vaughan

I am sending this letter to you in hope of finding a source to hear my concerns. It is something that has bothered me since the occurrence, and I know it is not something that should have happened, and I worry for my family's safety as I step out to speak about this.

During my son's deployment to Iraq, February 2004-February 2005: I created a small group website on MSN, for families and friends of our soldiers? deployed unit. It was a membership only site, and we were a tight group of mostly "Moms", from all over the United States, just trying to make it through each day. The support and help we gave one another is a singular experience of grace, I will never forget.

During the first few months of our site, the Army decided to call every single family on the site, informing them, that the site was not to be used by any of the families. The Department of Defense called families in the middle of the night to notify them to not use the web site. Most of the families were near tears, thinking they were getting "THE" call telling them their child or loved one had been killed or injured.

The information received via the phone call was to inform the families that the base did not condone the site, nor [did] the Army, and that it was not to be used; the gist was, families were not allowed to use the site, or they could get into "trouble". Some members reported their soldier calling from Iraq, telling them to be careful about using the site as the Army was monitoring it.

As Web Mistress of the site, I needed to respond and qualify this information, as well as to educate this commanding officer as to the rights and liberties of a private web site; which I did. I was told I would have to let a commanding officer on the site to monitor the messages; I did allow this, but I also informed the officer that this was a courtesy, as there is no such law, or right of the military to monitor, shut down or exclude our web site.

I believe we received this order, and treatment for a couple of reasons.

Occasionally we would voice our concerns publicly over what our government was failing to do to help our soldiers, or we would share or argue political opinion as well. The second reason may be: the armed services all have a group of their own family type support (FRG); as we were not local to the base our soldiers deployed from, the site was a means to provide that support, as best as we could.

The support group at our base, tried to force the site to be given over to them, which I refused. At this time I was told, I might want to be careful, as the government was monitoring the site as well. Soldiers in our unit, while in Iraq, were telling their parents to stay off of the site, or to be very careful of what they wrote. This came from a rear detachment officer in charge, and members on the site.

I reminded the Army I am a private citizen, not on base, with a private site making no claims to have any affiliation with any branch of service, but clearly stating we were families and friends of our unit in support of one another. We were treated to power by intimidation. It isn't hard to make that work, when you have someone's child in a war zone.

We were a group of 77 families from all over the country, at the time of the call. Every single family was phoned and told not to use the site; and I believe some 150 other families were phoned as well, as it was an official order from a commanding officer.

I have waited to speak of this situation until my son was home safe and sound, and also after his transfer to another base. Yes, I was afraid of repercussions that could have harmed him, one way or another. I called my local senator's office, 4 months ago, following up every 10 days to 2 weeks, and still have no answers or support.

I admit I am not comfortable writing this, as required to, as I am still concerned for my son and the other soldiers and families involved on the site. We didn't endanger them by means of displaying their photos with their names, giving up information about their location and actions. We were very careful to not breach Intel protocol, learning Ops protocol, as well as respecting and complying with it. We simply were at times, vocal about our displeasure with our president and government for how our military was being treated, or how the presidential election was being handled.

There are literally hundreds of military family, private support groups on the Internet. I truly believe we were singled out because of my refusal to hand the site over to the local F.R.G., as well as [my] outspoken political beliefs.

It's simply amazing that my son and others risk their lives for ?Freedom" in Iraq, when his own mother's civil liberties are threatened, and families are intimidated into silence, by the very same Army he is serving. I am hoping after reading this you may direct me as to where I can at least have this concern heard. Basically, are the following common practice, and legal?

**The Armed services can order families from communicating in a private forum?
**The Armed services can threaten private citizens? first amendment rights?

I want to make sure this is not happening to other service member's families. We live in a hell everyday during the deployment of our loved ones; we don't need the added bullying or stripping away our means of helping one another.

Any idea or direction you can point me in would be greatly appreciated. Also, this problem can be corroborated by other families if need be.

Why did it take so long for me to step forward?

Originally I contacted my Senators office, with no reply for six months, and have also spoken with the A.C.L.U; (with little hope of action due to the length of time that has passed) but until now was not willing to come forward in a public way. It took until September for my son to be safely stationed at another base, and other family's service members to either be out of the service all together, or be transferred as well.

We were afraid for their safety, our own, our relationships with them and their future in the service, all of these things could have been affected, and we couldn?t chance one more problem or pressure being added to the already heavy load the families and soldiers live with. The intimidation worked. Is this just something silly I should let go?

It doesn't seems trivial to me, but I am learning unless it happens to someone personally, no one seems to care.

Thank you, for your time

Robin Vaughan

FBI checked Muslim sites for radioactivity

FBI checked Muslim sites for radioactivity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- The FBI denies it singled out Muslim private sites for radioactivity monitoring, saying it merely was following leads.

Assistant Director John Miller said in a statement that the agency 'does not target any group based on ethnicity, political or religious belief.'

An unnamed federal official told the New York Times that monitoring was done in places that seemed likely terrorist targets.

'If you can go drive a car into the parking lot near the shopping mall, we can go there,' he said.

A report this week on the U.S. News & World Report Web site said that the FBI monitored a number of private U.S. sites for radioactivity in the last three years, many of them mosques, homes or businesses of Muslims.

The Times said the government has acknowledged the radioactivity monitoring at ports, subway stations and other public places, but the monitoring of private property was not generally known.

The monitoring involves the use of small radiation alarms, worn like pagers on the belt.

Much of the private site monitoring took place in Washington, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas and Seattle, reports said. Since the agents were monitoring from public areas, no warrants were sought.

U.S. officials have been concerned terrorists might use a 'dirty bomb,' a conventional explosive device wrapped in radioactive material, inside the United States.

None of the reports suggested the monitoring uncovered any radiation.

Thompson looking into Ukiah DEA action

Thompson looking into Ukiah DEA action
By SETH FREEDLAND/The Daily Journal

Saturday, December 24, 2005 -

Clay Young, the Ukiah resident who denounced the sudden entrance into his home by six federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents two weeks ago, has found an ally in his hunt for more information: the federal government.

North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson's office is currently investigating the DEA action, a spokesman from Thompson's Washington, D.C., office said. In casual parlance, the office has 'opened a case,' but the spokesman, Press Secretary Matt Gerien, cautioned against seeing it as a legal proceeding.

'Essentially, (Young) has authorized us to look into what happened,' Gerien said.

Heidi Dickerson, a district representative for Thompson, has been 'very proactive,' Young said. Dickerson sent a letter to the San Francisco DEA office, he said, and is currently waiting for a response.

'It feels good to have the representative working on this,' Young said. 'This is what passes for progress with these things.'

Last week, Young spoke in front of the Board of Supervisors to call for more county interaction with federal action in Mendocino County. He added that he will soon ask newly appointed Sheriff Kevin Broin to look at the federal-local relationship in the upcoming weeks.

Seth Freedland can be reached at ."

US Airstrikes Take Toll on Civilians

US Airstrikes Take Toll on Civilians
By Ellen Knickmeyer
The Washington Post

Saturday 24 December 2005

Eyewitnesses cite scores killed in marine offensive in western Iraq.

Ramadi, Iraq - US Marine airstrikes targeting insurgents sheltering in Iraqi residential neighborhoods are killing civilians as well as guerrillas along the Euphrates River in far western Iraq, according to Iraqi townspeople and officials and the US military.

Just how many civilians have been killed is strongly disputed by the Marines, and, some critics say, too little investigated. But townspeople, tribal leaders, medical workers and accounts from witnesses at the sites of clashes, at hospitals and at graveyards indicated that scores of noncombatants were killed last month in fighting, including airstrikes, in the opening stages of a 17-day US-Iraqi offensive in Anbar province.

"These people died silently, complaining to God of a guilt they did not commit," Zahid Mohammed Rawi, a physician, said in the town of Husaybah. Rawi said that after roughly one week into Operation Steel Curtain, which began on Nov. 5, medical workers had recorded 97 civilians killed. At least 38 insurgents were also killed in the offensive's early days, Rawi said.

In a Husaybah school converted to a makeshift hospital, Rawi, four other doctors and a nurse treated wounded Iraqis in the opening days of the offensive, examining bloodied children as anxious fathers soothed them and held them down.

"I dare any organization, committee or the American army to deny these numbers," Rawi said.

US Marines in Anbar say they take pains to spare innocent lives and almost invariably question civilian accounts from the battleground communities. They say that townspeople who either support the insurgents or are intimidated by them are manipulating the number of noncombatant deaths for propaganda - a charge that some Iraqis acknowledge is true of some residents and medical workers in Anbar province.

"I wholeheartedly believe the vast majority of civilians are killed by the insurgency," particularly by improvised bombs, said Col. Michael Denning, the top air officer for the 2nd Marine Division, which is leading the fight against insurgents in Anbar province.

In an interview at a Marine base at Ramadi, Anbar's provincial capital, Denning acknowledged that a city was "a very, very difficult place to fight." He said, however, that "insurgents will kill civilians and try to blame it on us."

But some military analysts say the US military must do more to track the civilian toll from its airstrikes. Sarah Sewall, deputy assistant secretary of defense from 1993 to 1996 and now program director for the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, said the military's resistance to acknowledging and analyzing so-called collateral damage remained one of the most serious failures of the US air and ground war in Iraq.

"It's almost impossible to fight a war in which engagements occur in urban areas [and] to avoid civilian casualties," Sewall, whose center is a branch of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government that focuses on issues such as genocide, failed states and military intervention, said in a telephone interview.

"In a conflict like Iraq, where civilian perceptions are as important as the number of weapons caches destroyed, assessing the civilian harm must become a part of the battle damage assessment process if you're going to fight a smart war," she said.

The number of airstrikes carried out each month by US aircraft rose almost fivefold this year, from roughly 25 in January to 120 in November, according to a tally provided by the military. Accounts by residents, officials and witnesses in Anbar and the Marines themselves make clear that Iraqi civilians are frequently caught in the attacks.

On Nov. 7, the third day of the offensive, witnesses watched from the roof of a public building in Husaybah as US warplanes struck homes in the town's Kamaliyat neighborhood. After fires ignited by the fighting had died down, witnesses observed residents removing the bodies of what neighbors said was a family - mother, father, 14-year-old girl, 11-year-old boy and 5-year-old boy - from the rubble of one house.

Survivors said insurgents had been firing mortars from yards in the neighborhood just before the airstrikes. Residents pleaded with the guerrillas to leave for fear of drawing attacks on the families, they said, but were told by the fighters that they had no other space from which to attack.

Near the town of Qaimone day last month, a man who identified himself only as Abdul Aziz said a separate US airstrike killed his grown daughter, Aesha. Four armed men were also found in the rubble of her house, he said.

"I don't blame the Americans. I blame Zarqawi and his group, who were using my daughter's house as a shelter," said Abdul Aziz, referring to Abu Musab Zarqawi, leader of the foreign-dominated group al Qaeda in Iraq.

Abdul Aziz spoke beside his daughter's newly dug grave, in a cemetery established for the 80 to 90 civilians who Anbar officials said were killed in the first weeks of the offensive. Several dozen new graves were evident, and residents said more than 40 victims of the fighting were to be buried that day alone. Witnesses saw only 11, all wrapped in blankets for burial. Residents said two of the 11 were women.

Abdul Aziz's grandsons ascribed blame for their mother's death more pointedly. "She was killed in the bombing by the Americans," said Ali, 9, the oldest of three brothers.

Operation Steel Curtain is representative of a series of offensives in western Anbar that began in late April. Brig. Gen. James L. Williams of the 2nd Marine Division described them as a town-by-town campaign to drive out insurgents and establish a permanent Iraqi army presence in the heavily Sunni Arab region. Iraqi and foreign insurgents use the Euphrates River communities for bases and for logistics support to funnel money, recruits and ordnance from Anbar and neighboring Syria to fighters planning attacks elsewhere in Iraq.

Steel Curtain involved 2,500 US Marines, soldiers and sailors and about 1,000 soldiers of the US-trained Iraqi army, including newly established units of locally recruited scouts commissioned mainly for their knowledge of the area, the Marines said. As the Iraqi and US forces moved through Husaybah, Karabilah and other towns, Marines said, they encountered scores of mines and insurgent-rigged bombs made from artillery shells or other ordnance. Ten Marines and 139 insurgents died in the offensive, the Marines said. They gave no totals for known civilian deaths.

Statements issued by the US military during the offensive reported at least two incidents that were described as airstrikes unwittingly conducted on buildings where civilians were later found to have been present.

On Nov. 8, a man in Husaybah led US and Iraqi forces to a house destroyed by US airstrikes the previous day, Marines said. Searching the rubble, Iraqi troops and US Marines found two wounded civilians - a young girl and a man - and recovered five bodies.

The Marines were told that fighters loyal to Zarqawi had forced their way into the house, killed two of the people inside and locked the rest of the family on a lower floor before using the building to attack Iraqi and US forces clearing the neighborhood.

"The soldiers and Marines had no knowledge of the civilians being held hostage in the home at the time of the attack," Marines said in a statement. It could not be determined if that airstrike was the same as the one described by witnesses who watched removal of the dead family.

On Nov. 15, US-led forces called in an airstrike after coming under small-arms fire from a building in the hamlet of New Ubaydi. Two men ran from the building waving white flags after the airstrike, followed by 15 male and female civilians, a US Marine statement said.

Marines described other instances of insurgents hiding among civilians in Anbar, including occasions when they dressed as women and tried to pass unnoticed among townspeople fleeing the battles. Residents, local officials and emergency workers said insurgents often sheltered among civilians in urban neighborhoods.

Arkan Isawi, an elder in Husaybah, said he and four other tribal leaders gathered to assess the damage while the operation was still underway and identified at least 80 dead, including women and children. "I personally pulled out a family of three children and parents," he said.

An exact count, however, was impossible, he said. "Anyone who gives you a number is lying, because the city was a mess, and people buried bodies in backyards and parking lots," with other bodies still under rubble, Isawi said.

Townspeople, medical workers and officials often exaggerate death tolls, either for effect or under orders from insurgents. However, accounts from other officials and residents are borne out at least partially by direct observation of bodies and other evidence.

The accounts of US Marines and Iraqi civilians of airstrikes often diverge sharply.

On Oct. 16, for instance, a US F-15 pilot caught a group of Ramadi-area insurgents planting explosives in a blast crater on a road used by US forces, Denning said. The F-15 dropped a bomb on the group, and analysis of video footage shot by the plane showed only what appeared to be grown men where the bomb struck, Denning said. After the airstrike, he said, roadside bombs in the area "shut down to almost nothing.

"That was a good strike, and we got some people who were killing a lot of people," Denning said.

Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, a spokesman for the 2nd Marines, said it was not possible that children were killed in that strike unless they were outside the range of the F-15's camera.

Residents, however, said the strike killed civilians as well as insurgents, including 18 children. Afterward, at a traditional communal funeral, black banners bore the names of the dead, and grieving parents gave names, ages and detailed descriptions of the children they said had been killed, witnesses said. The bodies of three children and a woman lay unclaimed outside a hospital after the day's fighting.

American commanders insist they do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, but overall, Denning said, "I think it would be very difficult to prosecute this insurgency" without airstrikes.

The precision-guided munitions used in all airstrikes in Anbar "have miss rates smaller than the size of this table," Denning said in the bare-bones cafeteria of one of several Marine bases around Ramadi. He said that officers at Ramadi and at the Marines' "lessons-learned" center in Quantico coordinate each attack using the best intelligence available. "I have to sell it to about two or three different chains of command: 'What are you doing to make sure there are no civilian casualties?' " Denning said.

Sewall, the former Pentagon official, also said air power often is the best means for taking out a target more cleanly than ground forces could. But, she said, US forces don't do enough after the airstrikes to figure out whether each one succeeded in hitting the intended targets while sparing civilians.

Marine officers said their lessons-learned center at Quantico did not try to assess civilian casualties from attacks. At the Pentagon, routine bomb-damage assessments rely heavily on the examination of aerial photos and satellite images, which Sewall said were "good for seeing if a building was hit, but not as good for determining who was inside."

"I have enormous respect for the extent to which US air power has become discriminate," Sewall said. "But when you're using force in an urban area or using force in an area with limited intelligence," and facing an enemy actively "exploiting distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, air power becomes challenging no matter how discriminate it is.

"When it comes to the extent to which they are minimizing civilian harm, the question becomes: How do you know?" Sewall said.

Happy Birthday Mithras!

December 24/25, 2005
The True Meaning of December 25th
Happy Birthday Mithras!


The New Testament provides no specific date for the birth of Jesus. If it occurred as the Gospel of Luke tells us, as shepherds were watching over their fields by
night, it probably wouldn't have taken place in December. Too cold. So why do most
Christians observe December 25 as Jesus' birthday?

The most plausible answer is that
in ancient Rome, as Christianity was emerging as a new faith, its calendar was
influenced by other up-and-coming belief systems bunched together by adherents of
traditional Roman religion as "mystery religions."

One of these was the worship of Mithras, an Indo-Aryan deity (the Mitra of Vedic
religion, the Mithra of the Persian Avesta) associated with the heavens and light.

His cult entered the Roman Empire in the first century BCE and during the formative
decades of the Christian movement was a formidable rival to the latter, with temples
from Syria to Britain.

Given his solar associations, it made sense to believe that
he had been born on the darkest day of the year, the winter solstice. That falls
this year on December 21 but the Romans celebrated the birth feast of Mithras on
December 25, ordered to do so by Emperor Aurelian in 274 CE. Christian texts from
325 note that the birthday of Jesus had come to be observed on that same day, and
the Roman Catholic Church has in modern times acknowledged that the December 25
Christmas quite likely derived from Mithraic practice.

Mithras, the story went, had been born of a virgin. Virgin-birth stories were a
denarius a dozen in the ancient world, so this similarity to the gospel story isn't
surprising. But Mithras was also born in very humble circumstances in a cave, and
upon his miraculous birth found himself in immediate proximity to the bovine. In his
case, not mellow manger beasts but a wild bull. In the Persian version of the myth,
this bull had been the first creation of Ahura Mazda, another, greater god of light.
(Ahura Mazda, in the history of Persian religion, gradually becomes conceptualized
as something like the Judeo-Christian God. But his worship in the Zoroastrian
tradition probably predates the Jewish conception of Yahweh as universal deity.
Quite likely the Zoroastrian conception of God influenced the Jewish one.)

Mithras serving Ahura Mazda subdued the bull, confining it in the cave, and later
slaughteed it. The blood of the slaughtered bull then generated vegetation and all
life. This myth surely has something to do with cattle-worship among ancient Aryan
peoples, which of course survives to this day in India. In Rome the Mithras cult
involved such rituals as drenching the Mithras devotee in bull-blood, and having
believers in secret ceremonies consume in the form of bread and wine the flesh and
blood of the fabled slaughtered bull. A communion ceremony, if you will. Mithras
died and was entombed, but rose from the dead. In some accounts, he does so on the
third day.

The Mithras cult was affected by earlier religious traditions. Anyone studying
mythologies in historical perspective knows that any particular god might have
numerous connections across time and space. The Sumerian fertility goddess Inana
becomes the Babylonian Ishtar becomes the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus. Inana
grieving for her husband Tammuz, who had died after being gored in the groin by a
bull, follows him to the netherworld. There are differing stories but in one she
achieves his resurrection; in another, the resurrection of both is accomplished by
the god of wisdom Enki, on the third day.

The Romans were very familiar with myths about virgin births, births marked by
celestial signs, gods born in humble circumstances, newborn gods barely escaping
death. The Mithras cult, arriving from Persia in the first century BCE and popular
among the Roman soldiers, was accepted nonchalantly in a society which had its
devotees of Isis, who had rescued her brother-husband Osiris from the netherworld;
Attis, who immaculately conceived by Nana, was gored by a wild boar but resurrected
on March 22 (note the proximity to Easter); and the gods of other mystery religions.
When the worship of Jesus Christ came along, spreading from Roman Palestine to
Jewish communities throughout the empire, and attracting non-Jews as well, they
added it to this exotic collection of devotional options. The early Christians for
their part were surely influenced by beliefs and practices of other cults.

Many find insights and truths in myths. Joseph Campbell said that "Myths are clues
to the spiritual potentialities of the human life." Sigmund Freud felt the stories
of Oedipus and Elektra illuminated human psychological development. But he regarded
religion as a delusion. Those suffering from the delusion see their own myths as the
definitive story, and resist any attempt to explain those myths as derivative from
or comparable to others. Thus the Church Father Justin Martyr (ca. 100-65) in his
Apologia (I, 66) claimed that "wicked devils have imitated" the Christian communion
ceremony "in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For,
that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic
rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn." He noted the
obvious similarity between Mithraic and Christian practice, and probably realized
that the Mithraic rite long preceded the Christian one. But he could not acknowledge
Christian borrowing. The Mithraic practice was devilish, while the Christian sent
down directly from God and bearing no relation to previous earthly ones was holy.

The Eucharist is one thing. It is mentioned in the gospels and in Paul's first
letter to the Corinthians, where it's referred to as "the Lord's supper." So even if
it reflects Mithraic borrowing, it at least has scriptural authority. It's based,
the believer knows, on God's Word dictated down through the power of the Holy Spirit
into the pen of the inspired scribe. But Christmas celebrated on December 25 is a
completely non-Biblical tradition, and realizing that, various Christians over the
centuries have actively opposed its observance. The Puritans controlling the English
Parliament in the 1650s outlawed it, ordering churches closed and shops open this
day. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, a law passed in 1659 stated, "Whoever shall be
found observing any such day as Christmas and the like, either by forbearing labor,
feasting, or any other way upon such account as aforesaid, every such person so
offending shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country."

The use of Christmas trees to mark the occasion has often come under attack. What
does a pine tree have to do with the birth of Jesus? Nothing, but it has a lot to do
with Attis, into whose temple in Rome each March 22 a pine tree would be carried and
decorated with flowers and carvings. Its entry into Christian practice probably
comes from Celtic and Germanic pagan customs; the Druids in Britain, for example,
used evergreens in connection with winter solstice rituals. The Norse god Odin
hanged himself on the yew tree named Yggdrasil, pierced by his own spear, to acquire
wisdom. There is a legend that in the eighth century St. Boniface, who converted the
Germans to Christianity, found pagans worshipping an oak tree sacred to Thor, and
when he had it cut down there sprouted in its place a fir tree that he took as a
sign from God. But the practice of bringing such trees into the home only began in
Germany during the Reformation in the sixteenth century, with encouragement,
according to legend from Martin Luther. German Hessians brought the custom to
America during the Revolution, but it did not become popular until the nineteenth
century and even by 1900, only one in five U.S. families had one. The majority came
to do so during the next two decades.

Holly? Used in Druid and Germanic winter solstice rituals. Yule log? More Druidism.
Christmas stockings? Well, no paganism there. Legend is St. Nicholas (Santa Claus is
from the Dutch Sint Niklaas), bishop of Myrna (in what's now Turkey) in the fourth
century and a very kindly man, discretely dropped pouches of coins down the chimney
of an impoverished nobleman's home. They miraculously dropped into stockings hung
there to dry by his several daughters who needed dowries to marry. The point is, all
these customs are the products of an explainable human history.

So too, the beliefs that produce the holiday. The babe born of a virgin, in a
stable, heralded by an angelic host, visited by Magi (Persian Zoroastrian
astrologers) following a star, targeted for death by an evil king. None of this
would have struck the average Roman as entirely original, but the vague familiarity
of the stories may have lent them credibility. It appears that the Christian
movement, highly diverse in the first few centuries, was able to incorporate
narratives and practices from other traditions into itself that gave it a
comparative advantage by the early fourth century. In 313 Emperor Constantine
legalized and patronized the faith. Soon thereafter an already formidable empire-
wide administrative apparatus merged with state power, and heresies and paganisms
were outlawed and largely suppressed. But Christianity continued to incorporate new
influences such as the above-mentioned Christmas practices. Few Christians (or
others) nowadays know of Mithras, but today much of the world unwittingly celebrates
his birth.

My wife and kids and I as usual have up a beautiful tree, honoring not only what's
allegorically worthwhile in the Jesus story but in the host of innocent paganisms
that fell victim to official Christianity. I've always seen the tree, intruding as
it does into the inner sanctum of the Christian home, as paganism's quiet revenge.
So here's a glass of wine, raised in honor of the hero of the day, transforming
eucharistically even as I partake. Happy birthday, Mithras! As the days grow longer
and the nights grow shorter, we thank you, Sun God, for the miracle of
photosynthesis you performed to bring us this sacred tree. We thank you for the
promise of springtime, which we have faith will arrive without fail, as the
landscape predictably dies and resurrects year after year. And we thank you for
shining century after century over our delusional imaginations.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of
Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the
Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa
Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900.
He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq,
Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at:

The Constitution Does Not Apply

The Constitution Does Not Apply
By Molly Ivins

Bush is not above the law, so why is he acting like a God-appointed king?

Uh-oh. Excuse me. I'm so sorry, but we are having a constitutional crisis. I know the timing couldn't be worse. Right in the middle of the wrapping paper, the gingerbread and the whole shebang, a tiny honest-to-goodness constitutional crisis.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country: Damn the inconvenience, full speed ahead. On his own, without consulting the Congress, the courts or the people, the president decided to use secret branches of government to spy on the American people. He is, of course, using 9-11 to justify his actions in this, as he does for everything else -- 9-11 happened so the Constitution does not apply, 9-11 happened so there is no separation of powers, 9-11 happened so 200 years of experience curbing the executive power of government is something we can now overlook.

That the president of the United States unconstitutionally usurped power is not in dispute. He and his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, both claim he has the right to do so on account of he is the president.

Let's try this again. The president is not above the law. I wish I thought I were being too pompous about this, but the greatest danger to our freedom always comes when we are scared or distracted -- and right now, we are both.

As an ACLU liberal, I would like to say how proud and honored I am to stand with so many American conservatives on this issue. You do credit to all your heroes. Barry Goldwater would be so proud.
One of the more annoying things about this usurpation of power is that it is both stupid and unnecessary. As large numbers of people have pointed out, it takes almost nothing to get a warrant to do what Bush has been doing illegally -- it's almost pro forma.

Here is a curious fact about the government of this country spying on its citizens: It always goes wrong immediately. For some reason, it's not as though we start with people anyone would regard as suspicious and then somehow slip gradually into spying on the Girl Scouts. We get it wrong from the beginning every time. Never seem to be able to distinguish between a terrorist and a vegetarian.

The Department of Defense has just proved this yet again with its latest folly of mistaking a flock of Florida Quakers for a threat to overthrow the government. A few months ago, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth tried to check out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book" and wound up being interviewed by two feds. Cointelpro and all those misbegotten Nixon-era spy programs were always making ludicrous mistakes.

The usual suspects, like that silly congressman Dan Burton, solemnly try to scare us with the dread specter of war, as though they alone are the hard-headed pragmatists, while only woolly minded liberals care about the Constitution. "Don't these people realize we're at war?" Well, yes. Why that justifies treating Unitarians like Islamofascists is beyond me.

This is the same pattern we have seen with Bush when it came to the Geneva Conventions for handling prisoners and to using torture. Not only does he consider himself above the law, he has surrounded himself with people who keep inventing perverse readings of the Constitution to justify him. Makes it especially nice to hear him go on about the importance of bringing democracy to Iraq.

Bush defended his actions Monday by saying it was part of "connecting the dots." A painful moment, since the 9-11 Commission just finished giving this administration grades of D and F in terms of preventing another terrorist attack -- and it has jack-all to do with wiretapping. This administration has cried wolf so many times using the national security excuse it has lost all credibility.

Bush just could not resist that especially nasty little fillip at the end: blaming the people who reported the problem. As though the sin were telling the people of this country what is happening, what is being done in our name with our money, as though we have no right to know.

From my point of view, Bush has made one terrible decision after another concerning national security, from how Homeland Security money was spent to attacking Iraq. The New York Times is not responsible.

Molly Ivins writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.

Report says NSA spying broader than Bush acknowledged

Report says NSA spying broader than Bush acknowledged
By Associated Press
Saturday, December 24, 2005 - Updated: 07:21 AM EST

NEW YORK - The National Security Agency has conducted much broader surveillance of e-mails and phone calls - without court orders - than the Bush administration has acknowledged, The New York Times reported on its Web site.
The NSA, with help from American telecommunications companies, obtained access to streams of domestic and international communications, said the Times in the report late Friday, citing unidentified current and former government officials.
The story did not name the companies.
Since the Times disclosed the domestic spying program last week, President Bush has stressed that his executive order allowing the eavesdropping was limited to people with known links to al-Qaida.
But the Times said that NSA technicians have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might lead to terrorists.
The volume of information harvested from telecommunications data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the paper said, quoting an unnamed official.
The story quoted a former technology manager at a major telecommunications firm as saying that companies have been storing information on calling patterns since the Sept. 11 attacks, and giving it to the federal government. Neither the manager nor the company he worked for was identified.

Russia deploys new set of strategic nuclear missiles

[from Drudge---so take it with a grain of salt...EG:) ]

Russia deploys new set of strategic nuclear missiles
Sat Dec 24 2005 12:33:41 ET

The chief of Russia's strategic forces on Saturday attended the deployment of a new set of state-of-the art intercontinental ballistic missiles, boasting of their capability to penetrate any prospective missile defense, news reports said.

Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, chief of the Strategic Missile Forces, took part in a ceremony that marked the commissioning of the latest set of Topol-M missiles at a missile base in Tatishchevo in the Volga River's Saratov region.

Solovtsov said Saturday that the new missile "is capable of penetrating any missile defense system," the RIA Novosti and Interfax news agencies reported.

Russian officials have called prospective U.S. missile defenses destabilizing and boasted repeatedly that Russia's new missiles could pierce any nation's missile shield.

The Topol-M missiles, capable of hitting targets more than 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) away, have so far been deployed in silos. The mobile version, mounted on a heavy off-road vehicle, is to enter combat service next year, Solovtsov said.

The deployed Topol-Ms have been fitted with single nuclear warheads, but officials have considered plans to equip each missile with three individually targeted warheads.


Stars turn backs on America's troops in Iraq

Stars turn backs on America's troops in Iraq

� Danger and anti-war stance keep celebrities away
� Shows now depend on Christian hip-hop groups
Jamie Wilson in Washington
Saturday December 24, 2005

During world war two American troops away from home for Christmas were entertained by Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby and the Marx Brothers. Even in Vietnam Bob Hope was guaranteed to put in an appearance. But soldiers in Iraq are more likely to get a show from a Christian hip-hop group, a country singer you have probably never heard of and two cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys.

Just as the seemingly intractable nature of the war has led to a growing recruitment crisis, so the United Services Organisation, which has been putting on shows for the troops since the second world war, is struggling to get celebrities to sign up for even a short tour of duty.

It is a far cry from the days following the September 11 2001 attacks, when some of the biggest names in show business, from Jennifer Lopez to Brad Pitt, rallied to the cause. "After 9/11 we couldn't have had enough airplanes for the people who were volunteering to go," Wayne Newton, the Las Vegas crooner who succeeded Bob Hope as head of USO's talent recruiting effort, told USA Today. "Now with 9/11 being as far removed as it is, the war being up one day and down the next, it becomes increasingly difficult to get people to go."

Newton said many celebrities have been wary of going because they think it might be seen that they are endorsing the war. "And I say it's not. I tell them these men and women are over there because our country sent them, and we have the absolute necessity to try to bring them as much happiness as we can."

Fear is also a factor. "They're scared," country singer Craig Morton, who is in Iraq on the USO's Hope and Freedom Tour 2005, told USA Today. "It's understandable. It's not a safe and fun place and a lot of people don't want to take the chance."

The USO was founded in 1941 as a way of boosting morale for the military. For most of that time Bob Hope, who made his first appearance in 1942 and his last in 1990, was its most recognisable face, famed for putting on Christmas extravaganzas on aircraft carriers and American bases during the Vietnam war. Thousands of performers signed up to play the "foxhole circuit" during the second world war, but the USO has a much smaller list.

Some of the entertainers still willing to travel are die-hard true believers - rock musician Ted Nugent carried a Glock handgun to shows in Iraq last year and said in a radio interview that he manned a machine gun on a Humvee. But many of the USO's regular performers are fierce critics of the war, among them the comic and star of Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams, who told USA Today he would like to return to the Middle East in the spring for what would be his fourth tour since 2002. "I'm there for the [troops], not for W," he said in a reference to the president. "Go, man. You won't forget it. You'll meet amazing people," is his message to stars that ask him about the tours. But the comedian said he mostly tries to keep politics out of the show after he did a few jokes about Bush's brainpower at a base in 2003 and got a chilly reception.

Other critics of the war who regularly perform include the leftwing comedian Al Franken (who is headlining the current tour along with Christian hip-hop group Souljahz) and the punk legend and actor Henry Rollins, one of the Bush administrations most vocal critics.

The tradition of beautiful women thrilling the troops has continued - although while Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell showed up in Korea and Vietnam could boast Raquel Welch, in Iraq they have had to make do with sometime pop singer and reality TV star Jessica Simpson.

Wartime entertainers

Second world war 1941 - 1945

Bob Hope
Duke Ellington
The Marx Brothers
Judy Garland

Korean war 1950 - 1953

Bob Hope
Marilyn Monroe
Jane Russell

Vietnam war 1961 - 1975

Bob Hope
John Wayne
Raquel Welch

Gulf war 1990 - 1991

Bob Hope
Steve Martin

Iraq war 2003 - present

Robin Williams
50 Cent
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders

Top 12 media myths and falsehoods on the Bush administration's spying scandal

Top 12 media myths and falsehoods on the Bush administration's spying scandal

Summary: Media Matters presents the top 12 myths and falsehoods promoted by the media on President Bush's spying scandal stemming from the recent revelation in The New York Times that he authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on domestic communications without the required approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court.

As The New York Times first revealed on December 16, President Bush issued a secret presidential order shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on international phone and email communications that originate from or are received within the United States, and to do so without the court approval normally required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Facing increasing scrutiny, the Bush administration and its conservative allies in the media have defended the secret spying operation with false and misleading claims that have subsequently been reported without challenge across the media. So, just in time for the holidays, Media Matters for America presents the top myths and falsehoods promoted by the media on the Bush administration's spying scandal.

1: Timeliness necessitated bypassing the FISA court

Various media outlets have uncritically relayed President Bush's claim that the administration's warrantless domestic surveillance is justified because "we must be able to act fast ... so we can prevent new [terrorist] attacks." But these reports have ignored emergency provisions in the current law governing such surveillance -- FISA -- that allow the administration to apply to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a search warrant up to 72 hours after the government begins monitoring suspects' phone conversations. The existence of this 72-hour window debunks the argument that the administration had to bypass the law to avoid delay in obtaining a warrant. The fact that the administration never retroactively sought a warrant from the FISA court for its surveillance activities suggests that it was not the need to act quickly that prevented the administration from complying with the FISA statute, but, rather, the fear of being denied the warrant.

2: Congress was adequately informed of -- and approved -- the administration's actions

Conservatives have sought to defend the secret spying operation by falsely suggesting that the Bush administration adequately informed Congress of its actions and that Congress raised no objections. For example, on the December 19 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed that the NSA's domestic surveillance "wasn't a secret program" because "the Bush administration did keep key congressional people informed they were doing this." The claim was also featured in a December 21 press release by the Republican National Committee (RNC).

In fact, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have said that the administration likely did not inform them of the operation to the extent required by the National Security Act of 1947, as amended in 2001. Members of both parties have also said that the objections they did have were ignored by the administration and couldn't be aired because the program's existence was highly classified.

As The New York Times reported on December 21, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have stated that they did not receive written reports from the White House on the surveillance operation, as required by the National Security Act:

The demand for written reports was added to the National Security Act of 1947 by Congress in 2001, as part of an effort to compel the executive branch to provide more specificity and clarity in its briefings about continuing activities. President Bush signed the measure into law on Dec. 28, 2001, but only after raising an objection to the new provision, with the stipulation that he would interpret it "in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority" to withhold information for national-security or foreign-policy reasons.


[I]n interviews, Mr. Hoekstra, Mr. Graham and aides to Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Reid all said they understood that while the briefings provided by [Vice President Dick] Cheney might have been accompanied by charts, they did not constitute written reports. The 2001 addition to the law requires that such reports always be in written form, and include a concise statement of facts and explanation of an activity's significance.

Further, Rockefeller recently released a copy of a letter he wrote to Cheney on July 17, 2003, raising objections to the secret surveillance operation. As the Times reported on December 20, Rockefeller said on December 19 that his concerns "were never addressed, and I was prohibited from sharing my views with my colleagues" because the briefings were classified. The December 21 Times report noted that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she too sent a letter to the Bush administration objecting to the secret surveillance operation, and that Graham alleged that he was never informed "that the program would involve eavesdropping on American citizens."

3: Warrantless searches of Americans are legal under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Conservatives such as nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh and American Cause president Bay Buchanan have defended the administration by falsely claiming that the administration's authorization of domestic surveillance by the NSA without warrants is legal under FISA. In fact, FISA, which was enacted in 1978, contains provisions that limit such surveillance to communications "exclusively between foreign powers," specifically stating that the president may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order only if there is "no substantial likelihood" that the communications of "a United States person" -- a U.S. citizen or anyone else legally in the United States -- will be intercepted. Such provisions do not allow for the Bush administration's authorization of domestic surveillance of communications between persons inside the United States and parties outside the country.

FISA also allows the president and the attorney general to conduct surveillance without a court order for the purpose of gathering "foreign intelligence information" for "a period" no more than 15 days "following a declaration of war by the Congress." This provision does not permit Bush's conduct either, as he acknowledged that he had reauthorized the program more than 30 times since 2001, and said that the program is "reviewed approximately every 45 days."

4: Clinton, Carter also authorized warrantless searches of U.S. citizens

Another tactic conservatives have used to defend the Bush administration has been to claim that it is not unusual for a president to authorize secret surveillance of U.S. citizens without a court order, asserting that Democratic presidents have also done so. For example, on the December 21 edition of Fox News's Special Report, host Brit Hume claimed that former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton issued executive orders "to perform wiretaps and searches of American citizens without a warrant."

But as the ThinkProgress weblog noted on December 20, executive orders on the topic by Clinton and Carter were merely explaining the rules established by FISA, which do not allow for warrantless searches on "United States persons." Subsequent reports by NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and The Washington Post also debunked the conservative talking point while noting that the claim was highlighted in the December 21 RNC press release.

From ThinkProgress, which documented how internet gossip Matt Drudge selectively cited from the Clinton and Carter executive orders to falsely suggest they authorized secret surveillance of U.S. citizens without court-obtained warrants:

What Drudge says:

Clinton, February 9, 1995: "The Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order"

What Clinton actually signed:

Section 1. Pursuant to section 302(a)(1) [50 U.S.C. 1822(a)] of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Act, the Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year, if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that section.

That section requires the Attorney General to certify is the search will not involve "the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person." That means U.S. citizens or anyone inside of the United States.

The entire controversy about Bush's program is that, for the first time ever, allows warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and other people inside of the United States. Clinton's 1995 executive order did not authorize that.

Drudge pulls the same trick with Carter.

What Drudge says:

Jimmy Carter Signed Executive Order on May 23, 1979: "Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order."

What Carter's executive order actually says:

1-101. Pursuant to Section 102(a)(1) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1802(a)), the Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order, but only if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that Section.

What the Attorney General has to certify under that section is that the surveillance will not contain "the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party." So again, no U.S. persons are involved.

5: Only Democrats are concerned about the Bush administration's secret surveillance

As part of a larger problem of imprecise reporting, a number of media reports have falsely suggested that the debate over the Bush administration's secret surveillance of domestic communications is purely a partisan dispute between Democrats and Republicans. For example, on the December 22 broadcast of NBC's Today, Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman said: "[W]hile the Bill of Rights is something we all cherish, I think the Democrats politically need to be careful, because the president's going to argue, as he already is, that post-9-11, strong surveillance measures are required."

In fact, several prominent Republicans have expressed concern that the Bush administration's actions might violate the law or otherwise be objectionable. On December 18, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC) said that "I don't know of any legal basis to go around" the requirement that the White House formally apply to the FISA court for a warrant to engage in domestic surveillance, while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said it is a "legitimate question" to ask why "the president chose not to use FISA." After Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales cited executive authority in defending the legality of the administration's actions, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) -- who is in charge of organizing an investigation into the issue -- responded that he was "skeptical of the attorney general's citation of authority."

6: Debate is between those supporting civil liberties and those seeking to prevent terrorism

Many media figures have created a false dichotomy by framing the debate over the Bush administration's actions as one between those who support protecting civil liberties and those who favor protecting America from another deadly terrorist attack. For example, NBC host Katie Couric claimed the debate amounted to "legal analysts and constitutional scholars versus Americans, who say civil liberties are important, but we don't want another September 11," while NBC's Mitchell wondered whether Americans should be more concerned about "[a] terror attack or someone going into their hard drive and intercepting their emails."

Such statements set up exactly the false debate put forth by Cheney and Bush to defend the administration's actions, as Mitchell subsequently noted on the December 21 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MITCHELL: [T]hey set up successfully, the White House, this premise of you're either for security and protecting the American people post-9-11 or you're worried about surveillance. This either-or proposition, when a lot of people say that's a false choice.

7: Bin Laden phone leak demonstrates how leak of spy operation could damage national security

Several media outlets have uncritically cited a 1998 Washington Times report on Osama bin Laden as an example of how leaking information about the Bush administration's domestic spying operation could harm national security. The media have falsely suggested that the Washington Times report revealed that the United States was monitoring bin Laden's conversations on a satellite phone and that bin Laden quickly ceased using the phone after the report surfaced. In fact, the article only noted that bin Laden was using a satellite phone, not that the U.S. was monitoring it; according to a December 22 report by The Washington Post, bin Laden apparently had stopped using the phone by the time any newspaper reported that the U.S. had been monitoring his conversations. Further, the Post noted that another report on bin Laden's phone -- that relied on the Taliban as its source -- preceded the Washington Times article by nearly two years, while another report predating the Times article relied on bin Laden himself.

One example of media misrepresenting the bin Laden incident occurred on the December 17 edition of CNN Live Saturday, when correspondent Brian Todd reported:

TODD: We asked one expert how important it is for the NSA and its methods to be kept so secret. He cited one breach as an example, the damage done when it was made public that intelligence agencies were monitoring Osama bin Laden's cell phone calls.

In a December 19 press conference, Bush also highlighted the purported bin Laden leak as an example of why leaking information about the domestic spying operation was a "shameful act" that is "helping the enemy":

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Are you going to order a leaks investigation into the disclosure of the NSA surveillance program?


BUSH: My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war.

The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy.


BUSH: Let me give you an example about my concerns about letting the enemy know what may or may not be happening.

In the late 1990s, our government was following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone. And then the fact that we were following Osama bin Laden because he was using a certain type of telephone made it into the press as the result of a leak.

And guess what happened. Osama bin Laden changed his behavior. He began to change how he communicated.

But as the December 22 Post report documented, the August 21, 1998, Washington Times article in question "never said that the United States was listening in on bin Laden"; the article merely reported that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." The Post also noted that the Washington Times report was not the first article to note bin Laden's use of a satellite phone: A December 16, 1996, Time magazine report cited the Taliban in reporting that bin Laden "uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East and Africa." And the day before the Times article, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen cited a 1997 interview he conducted with bin Laden to report that bin Laden "communicates by satellite phone." Finally, the Post noted that it was not until "after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone" that the Los Angeles Times first reported on September 7, 1998, that the U.S. had been monitoring his phone conversations. As a follow-up Post article on December 23 noted, bin Laden stopped using the phone "within days of a cruise missile attack on his training camps in Afghanistan."

The false claim that the Washington Times article was responsible for causing bin Laden to stop using the satellite phone apparently originated in the 9-11 Commission report, which asserted: "Worst of all, al Qaeda's senior leadership had stopped using a particular means of communication almost immediately after a leak to the Washington Times."

8: Gorelick testimony proved Clinton asserted "the same authority" as Bush

In a December 20 article headlined "Clinton Claimed Authority to Order No-Warrant Searches," National Review White House correspondent Byron York drew attention to then-Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick's July 14, 1994, testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, in which she stated that the president has "inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches." While York's article did not explicitly draw a parallel between the Clinton administration's 1994 policy regarding such searches and the current Bush administration controversy regarding unwarranted domestic surveillance, conservative media figures such as National Review editor Rich Lowry and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer have done just that.

But Gorelick's testimony does not prove that the Clinton administration believed it had the authority to bypass FISA regulations, as the Bush administration has argued in the case of the NSA's domestic wiretapping program.

Unlike electronic surveillance, the "physical searches" to which Gorelick referred were not restricted by FISA at the time of her 1994 testimony. Therefore, by asserting the authority to conduct physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes, the Clinton administration was not asserting that it did not have to comply with FISA. In October 1994, Congress passed legislation -- with Clinton's support -- to require FISA warrants for physical searches. Thereafter, the Clinton administration never argued that any "inherent authority" pre-empted FISA. To the contrary, in February 1995 Clinton issued an executive order that implemented the new FISA requirements on physical searches.

By contrast, the Bush administration has argued that it has the authority to authorize surveillance of domestic communications without court orders, despite FISA's clear and longstanding restrictions on warrantless electronic eavesdropping.

9: Aldrich Ames investigation is example of Clinton administration bypassing FISA regulations

Some conservatives have specifically cited the joint CIA/FBI investigation of Aldrich Ames, a CIA analyst ultimately convicted of espionage, as an example of Clinton invoking executive authority to overstep FISA by authorizing a physical search of a suspect without a court order. For example, on the December 21 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Republican attorney Victoria Toensing falsely claimed that the Clinton administration did "carry out that authority" to bypass the FISA requirements "when they went into Aldrich Ames's house without a warrant."

But as with Gorelick's testimony, the Ames investigation took place before the 1995 FISA amendment requiring warrants for physical searches. In other words, in conducting these searches, the Clinton administration did not bypass FISA because FISA did not address physical searches. Further, there is ample evidence that the Clinton administration complied with the FISA requirements that did exist on wiretapping: U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who previously served on the FISA court, has noted the "key role" the court played in the Ames case to "authorize physical entries to plant eavesdropping devices"; and former deputy assistant attorney general Mark M. Richard established that "the Attorney General was asked to sign as many as nine certifications to the FISA court in support of applications for FISA surveillance" during the Ames investigation.

10: Clinton administration conducted domestic spying

Conservative media figures have claimed that during the Clinton administration, the NSA used a program known as Echelon to monitor the domestic communications of United States citizens without a warrant. While most have offered no evidence to support this assertion, NewsMax, a right-wing news website, cited a February 27, 2000, CBS News 60 Minutes report that correspondent Steve Kroft introduced by asserting: "If you made a phone call today or sent an email to a friend, there's a good chance what you said or wrote was captured and screened by the country's largest intelligence agency. The top-secret Global Surveillance Network is called Echelon, and it's run by the National Security Agency." NewsMax used the 60 Minutes segment to call into question The New York Times' December 16 report that Bush's "decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad."

On December 19, Limbaugh read the NewsMax article on his nationally syndicated radio show. Limbaugh told listeners that Bush's surveillance program "started in previous administrations. You've heard of the NSA massive computer-gathering program called Echelon. 60 Minutes did a story on this in February of 2000. Bill Clinton still in office." The Echelon claim has also been repeated by Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund and radio host G. Gordon Liddy.

The 60 Minutes report appears to have been based largely on anecdotal evidence provided by a former Canadian intelligence agent and a former intelligence employee who worked at Menwith Hill, the American spy station in Great Britain, in 1979. In addition, the report contained footage of an assertion by then-Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) that "Project Echelon engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens." But the report also included comments from then-chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL), who, Kroft reported, "still believes ... that the NSA does not eavesdrop on innocent American citizens." Kroft asked Goss: "[H]ow can you be sure that no one is listening to those conversations?" Goss responded, "We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well."

While Goss did not say in his 60 Minutes interview that the NSA does not spy on the domestic communications of Americans without a warrant, then-director of central intelligence George J. Tenet and then-National Security Agency director Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden said exactly that to Goss's committee less than two months later. As ThinkProgress has noted, Tenet testified before the intelligence committee on April 12, 2000. Denying allegations that Echelon was used to spy on Americans in the United States without a warrant, Tenet stated: "We do not target their conversations for collection in the United States unless a FISA warrant has been obtained from the FISA court by the Justice Department." In the same hearing, Hayden testified: "If [an] American person is in the United States of America, I must have a court order before I initiate any collection [of communications] against him or her."

Hayden also denied the "urban myth" that the NSA "ask[s] others to do on our behalf that which we cannot do for ourselves." This appears to have been a response to the allegation -- noted by 60 Minutes -- that the NSA was exchanging information with foreign intelligence services that did monitor the domestic communications of Americans. Hayden stated: "By executive order, it is illegal for us to ask others to do what we cannot do ourselves, and we don't do it."

Tenet and Hayden's congressional testimony leaves two possibilities: Either they were not telling Congress the truth, or the claim that the NSA used the Echelon program to monitor the domestic communications of Americans is incorrect.

Hayden now serves as principal deputy director of national intelligence and has vigorously defended Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program. At a December 19 press conference, he acknowledged that Bush's program goes beyond what is authorized under FISA. Hayden described it as "a more -- I'll use the word 'aggressive' program than would be traditionally available under FISA."

11: Moussaoui case proved that FISA probable-cause standard impedes terrorism probes

Some of the administration's supporters have attempted to defend the domestic surveillance program by pointing to a purported situation where the cumbersome FISA regulations prevented crucial intelligence gathering. In a December 20 Washington Post op-ed, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Gary Schmitt cited the 2001 case of Zacarias Moussaoui as evidence that the "difficulty with FISA is the standard it imposes for obtaining a warrant aimed at" a domestic target. Kristol and Schmitt claimed that the evidence the FBI had compiled against Moussaoui did not "rise to the level of probable cause under FISA":

Consider the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the French Moroccan who came to the FBI's attention before Sept. 11 because he had asked a Minnesota flight school for lessons on how to steer an airliner, but not on how to take off or land. Even with this report, and with information from French intelligence that Moussaoui had been associating with Chechen rebels, the Justice Department decided there was not sufficient evidence to get a FISA warrant to allow the inspection of his computer files. Had they opened his laptop, investigators might have begun to unwrap the Sept. 11 plot. But strange behavior and merely associating with dubious characters don't rise to the level of probable cause under FISA.

But contrary to Kristol and Schmitt's argument that the probable-cause standard established by FISA was too high in this case, a 2003 Senate Judiciary Committee report found that the FBI's evidence against Moussaoui was, in fact, sufficient. The report instead asserted that FBI personnel who handled the warrant application "failed miserably" in their efforts to convince FBI attorneys that the threshold for establishing probable cause that Moussaoui was an "agent of a foreign power" (and therefore subject to surveillance pursuant to FISA) had been met .

The bipartisan report, compiled by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Arlen Specter (R-PA), examined in detail the FBI's handling of the Moussaoui FISA application, which was delivered to FBI headquarters by the Minneapolis field office, handled by a supervisory special agent (SSA) there, and ultimately rejected as insufficient by FBI attorneys. The senators determined that the SSA in charge of the application provided the attorneys with a "truncated" version of the evidence compiled by the Minneapolis agents and failed to search for additional "information relevant to the application." Moreover, the report found that both the SSA and the attorneys had employed an "unnecessarily high standard" for probable cause -- one that exceeded the legal requirements set out by FISA:

In our view, the FBI applied too cramped an interpretation of probable cause and "agent of a foreign power" in making the determination of whether Moussaoui was an agent of a foreign power. FBI Headquarters personnel in charge of reviewing this application focused too much on establishing a nexus between Moussaoui and a "recognized" group, which is not legally required. Without going into the actual evidence in the Moussaoui case, there appears to have been sufficient evidence in the possession of the FBI which satisfied the FISA requirements for the Moussaoui application.

Despite this report's having established that the FBI's misunderstanding of the FISA requirements resulted in the rejection of the Moussaoui application, a December 23 New York Times article reported without challenge the FBI's argument that FISA's "cumbersome submission requirements" were to blame:

Some agents complained that the FISA court's cumbersome submission requirements and insistence on strict adherence to the law had contributed to the impression that the court itself was an obstacle to aggressive investigation of terror cases. As an example, these agents suggested F.B.I. lawyers did not seek a FISA warrant in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested shortly before the 2001 attacks, in part because they believed the court would reject it.

12: A 2002 FISA review court opinion makes clear that Bush acted legally

Recently, conservative media figures have misleadingly cited a 2002 opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR) to claim that the president could authorize warrantless domestic electronic surveillance despite FISA's restrictions. They have pointed to the court's reiteration of the president's inherent constitutional authority to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance without a warrant, which FISA cannot encroach upon. Therefore, they argue, Bush could authorize NSA's warrantless monitoring of "U.S. persons," regardless of FISA's restrictions.

But, as Media Matters documented, this argument is a red herring. Their citation of the decision to support the contention that Congress cannot encroach upon the president's constitutional authority ignores constitutional limits on that authority. Of course a law passed in 1978 would not trump the Constitution -- the supreme law of the land. The question is the scope of that presidential authority and whether it extends to acts that would violate the provisions of FISA protecting U.S. persons from excessive government intrusion. Contrary to these media figures' suggestions, the 2002 FISCR opinion does not address that question.

Regardless, media figures have asserted that the FISCR opinion supports the contention that Bush is not bound by FISA.

Most prominent among these has been National Review White House correspondent Byron York, who in a post on the National Review Online's weblog, The Corner, titled "READ THIS IMPORTANT ARTICLE," promoted a Chicago Tribune op-ed by John Schmidt, an associate attorney general under Clinton, supporting the legality of the administration's surveillance program. Schmidt wrote:

Four federal courts of appeal subsequently faced the issue squarely and held that the president has inherent authority to authorize wiretapping for foreign intelligence purposes without judicial warrant. In the most recent judicial statement on the issue, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, composed of three federal appellate court judges, said in 2002 that "All the ... courts to have decided the issue held that the president did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence ... We take for granted that the president does have that authority."


But as the 2002 Court of Review noted, if the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches, "FISA could not encroach on the president's constitutional power."

The Drudge Report website also cited Schmidt's Tribune op-ed with a link captioned "Associate attorney general under Clinton: President had legal authority to OK taps ..."

Similarly, a December 20 Wall Street Journal editorial asserted:

FISA established a process by which certain wiretaps in the context of the Cold War could be approved, not a limit on what wiretaps could ever be allowed.

The courts have been explicit on this point, most recently in In Re: Sealed Case, the 2002 opinion by the special panel of appellate judges established to hear FISA appeals. In its per curiam opinion, the court noted that in a previous FISA case (U.S. v. Truong), a federal "court, as did all the other courts to have decided the issue [our emphasis], held that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information." And further that, "We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power."

Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle made a similar claim on the December 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, stating, "In 2002, [FISA's] own court of review upheld the president's powers and pointed to an appeals court decision, noting that it, as did all other courts to have decided the issue, held that the president did have the inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information."

Others who have repeated this claim in the media include Bradford Berenson, a former associate White House counsel, who made the assertion on the December 21 broadcast of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Berenson worked in the Bush White House from 2001 to 2003, and after the September 11 attacks "played a significant role in the executive branch's counterterrorism response."

? A.S., J.K., J.S., S.S.M., & R.S.K.

Posted to the web on Friday December 23, 2005 at 7:12 PM EST

Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report

Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report

Published: December 24, 2005

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 - The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed
large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out
of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President
Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of
terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.
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Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts (December 16, 2005)
Daschle Says Congress Never Authorized Program

Alito Wrote on Wiretaps

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice
networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White
House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping
directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries,
they said.

As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance
without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American
telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of
domestic and international communications, the officials said.

The government's collection and analysis of phone and Internet traffic have
raised questions among some law enforcement and judicial officials familiar
with the program. One issue of concern to the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court, which has reviewed some separate warrant applications
growing out of the N.S.A.'s surveillance program, is whether the court has
legal authority over calls outside the United States that happen to pass
through American-based telephonic "switches," according to officials
familiar with the matter.

"There was a lot of discussion about the switches" in conversations with the
court, a Justice Department official said, referring to the gateways through
which much of the communications traffic flows. "You're talking about access
to such a vast amount of communications, and the question was, How do you
minimize something that's on a switch that's carrying such large volumes of
traffic? The court was very, very concerned about that."

Since the disclosure last week of the N.S.A.'s domestic surveillance
program, President Bush and his senior aides have stressed that his
executive order allowing eavesdropping without warrants was limited to the
monitoring of international phone and e-mail communications involving people
with known links to Al Qaeda.

What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides
actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large
volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point
to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large
data-mining operation.

The current and former government officials who discussed the program were
granted anonymity because it remains classified.

Bush administration officials declined to comment on Friday on the technical
aspects of the operation and the N.S.A.'s use of broad searches to look for
clues on terrorists. Because the program is highly classified, many details
of how the N.S.A. is conducting it remain unknown, and members of Congress
who have pressed for a full Congressional inquiry say they are eager to
learn more about the program's operational details, as well as its legality.

Officials in the government and the telecommunications industry who have
knowledge of parts of the program say the N.S.A. has sought to analyze
communications patterns to glean clues from details like who is calling
whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of day it is made, and the
origins and destinations of phone calls and e-mail messages. Calls to and
from Afghanistan, for instance, are known to have been of particular
interest to the N.S.A. since the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said.

This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would,
in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to
trace who calls whom.

The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush administration in
other contexts has raised strong objections, most notably in connection with
the Total Information Awareness system, developed by the Pentagon for
tracking terror suspects, and the Department of Homeland Security's Capps
program for screening airline passengers. Both programs were ultimately
scrapped after public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil

But the Bush administration regards the N.S.A.'s ability to trace and
analyze large volumes of data as critical to its expanded mission to detect
terrorist plots before they can be carried out, officials familiar with the
program say. Administration officials maintain that the system set up by
Congress in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not
give them the speed and flexibility to respond fully to terrorist threats at

A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company said that
since the Sept. 11 attacks, the leading companies in the industry have been
storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal
government to aid in tracking possible terrorists.

"All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared
with them, and since 9/11, there's been much more active involvement in that
area," said the former manager, a telecommunications expert who did not want
his name or that of his former company used because of concern about
revealing trade secrets.

Such information often proves just as valuable to the government as
eavesdropping on the calls themselves, the former manager said.

"If they get content, that's useful to them too, but the real plum is going
to be the transaction data and the traffic analysis," he said. "Massive
amounts of traffic analysis information - who is calling whom, who is in
Osama Bin Laden's circle of family and friends - is used to identify lines
of communication that are then given closer scrutiny."

Several officials said that after President Bush's order authorizing the
N.S.A. program, senior government officials arranged with officials of some
of the nation's largest telecommunications companies to gain access to
switches that act as gateways at the borders between the United States'
communications networks and international networks. The identities of the
corporations involved could not be determined.

The switches are some of the main arteries for moving voice and some
Internet traffic into and out of the United States, and, with the
globalization of the telecommunications industry in recent years, many
international-to-international calls are also routed through such American

One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the
N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American
government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the
telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic
that is routed through American-based switches.

The growth of that transit traffic had become a major issue for the
intelligence community, officials say, because it had not been fully
addressed by 1970's-era laws and regulations governing the N.S.A. Now that
foreign calls were being routed through switches on American soil, some
judges and law enforcement officials regarded eavesdropping on those calls
as a possible violation of those decades-old restrictions, including the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court-approved
warrants for domestic surveillance.

Historically, the American intelligence community has had close
relationships with many communications and computer firms and related
technical industries. But the N.S.A.'s backdoor access to major
telecommunications switches on American soil with the cooperation of major
corporations represents a significant expansion of the agency's operational
capability, according to current and former government officials.

Phil Karn, a computer engineer and technology expert at a major West Coast
telecommunications company, said access to such switches would be
significant. "If the government is gaining access to the switches like this,
what you're really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum
operation to sweep up data," he said.

Man who supplied Saddam's chemicals guilty of war crime

Man who supplied Saddam's chemicals guilty of war crime - World - Times Online: "Man who supplied Saddam's chemicals guilty of war crime
By Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor

A DUTCH businessman was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to 15 years in prison yesterday for helping Saddam Hussein to acquire the chemical weapons that he used to kill thousands of Kurdish civilians in the Iran-Iraq war.

The ruling by a court in The Hague ? which could have an impact on the trial of the former Iraqi dictator in Baghdad ? also said that genocide had been perpetrated against Kurds in Iraq after Saddam accused them of collaborating with Iran.

The court found Frans van Anraat guilty of multiple counts of war crimes, violating the laws and customs of war and causing death and serious bodily harm to the whole or entire Kurdish population, but not guilty of genocide.

Van Anraat, a portly 63-year-old, was not in court to hear the verdict and sentence. He has always maintained that he did not know the chemicals he sold to Iraq would be used to make poison gas. His lawyers said that they would appeal against yesterday?s ruling.

Scores of relatives of victims, some in colourful Kurdish dress, followed the proceedings in a separate room through interpreters into English, Farsi and Arabic. When the verdict was read out dozens danced outside the courthouse. Some held banners reading ?Halabja genocide ? never again?, a reference to the Iraqi Kurdish town where 5,000 civilians were killed by chemical weapons in 1988.

?I spoke to my family in Halabja and they cried with joy,? said Dana Habajal, who survived the crackdown by Iraqi forces against the Kurdish population. ?I?m so happy, I don?t know what to say. I hope Saddam Hussein faces the same.?

The court also awarded damages of ?7,000 each to 15 victims. ?These attacks were committed with the intent to destroy the Kurdish population of Iraq,? the ruling said. ?The court finds the intent of destruction was targeted against part of the Kurdish group as part of a genocidal intent.?

Prosecutors accused Van Anraat of delivering more than 1,000 tonnes of thiodiglycol. It can be used to make mustard gas, which causes horrific burns to the lungs and eyes and is often fatal.

He was also accused of importing chemicals to make nerve agents. The prosecution said that the lethal cargo was shipped from America via Belgium and Jordan to Iraq. He also imported other shipments from Japan via Italy.

Van Anraat was first arrested in 1989 in Italy on a US warrant. He then fled to Baghdad where he lived for 14 years under an assumed name. After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 he made his way back to the Netherlands, where he was arrested a year ago."

Former CIA head promoted on Fidelity board

Former CIA head promoted on Fidelity board

BOSTON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Former CIA director Robert Gates will in January become the lead independent director of the board that oversees Fidelity Investments' hundreds of mutual funds, the world's biggest fund firm said on Friday.

Gates, who is president of Texas A&M University and has been a Fidelity fund director since 1997, will take over as lead independent director from Marvin Mann, who reached the mandatory retirement age.

The board is made up of outsiders who have no direct ties to the privately held, Boston-based fund company and Fidelity executives. Gates will lead the outsiders while Fidelity Chairman Edward Johnson is chairman of the entire board.

Directors are appointed to look after shareholders' interests.

Separately, Fidelity also said that Richard Mace, a veteran manager who heads four of the company's funds, will take a leave of absence.

From Jan. 1, Michael Jenkins and a team including William Bower and William Kennedy will manage the Fidelity Aggressive International Fund, while Derek Young will become the interim manager of the Global Balance Fund.

Ian Hart will succeed Mace as manager of the Overseas Fund and Jeffrey Feingold will become lead manager of the Worldwide Fund."

Italian court issues arrest warrant for CIA agents

Telegraph | News | Italian court issues arrest warrant for CIA agents: "Italian court issues arrest warrant for CIA agents
By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor
(Filed: 24/12/2005)

An Italian court yesterday issued a Europe-wide arrest warrant for 22 CIA agents accused of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric from Milan and flying him to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.

The move raises the stakes in the dispute between Europe and America over the CIA's controversial policy of 'extraordinary rendition'.

It means that police forces in Britain and the 24 other members of the EU would be legally obliged to arrest any of the suspects, who would be sent back to Italy under a fast-track system adopted as a counter-terrorist measure after the September 11 attacks.

The same procedure was used to return Hussain Osman, one of the alleged would-be suicide bombers in London on July 21, after he was tracked down to Italy.

The Italian prosecutor, Armando Spataro, said he had also asked Interpol to try to detain the CIA agents anywhere in the world.

Magistrates in Milan believe that a CIA team abducted Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, otherwise known as Abu Omar, off a Milan street as he made his way to a mosque in February 2003.

The wanted men include the alleged head of the CIA Milan sub-station, identified as Robert Seldon Lady, who retired to a villa in northern Italy but slipped out of the country before arrest warrants were issued in July.

Prosecutors issued the warrants in apparent frustration with the justice minister, Roberto Castelli, who appears to have been stalling on their demand that the Italian government request their extradition from America.

? The Polish government said yesterday it had decided not to make public the results of an inquiry into the possible existence of CIA prisons on Polish soil.

Although officials promised last week to reveal all the results of the investigation, a spokesman said the parliamentary commission had read the report, accepted its conclusions and now considered the matter closed."