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NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden and national intelligence director James Clapper both broke the law. What's the difference?

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on June 27, 2013)

Whistleblower and former National Security Administration (NSA) employee, Edward Snowden, has been making headlines since he stunned the citizens of the United States three weeks ago with one of the most significant data leaks in the history of US classified intelligence.

After months of planning and preparing, Snowden abandoned his girlfriend, family, comfortable lifestyle, salary and job to flee the US and release from hiding in Hong Kong a collection of shocking documents revealing massive federal wiretapping programs operative in the US.

The documents revealed the existence of a project called PRISM, which has been utilized by the NSA for years to monitor internet and telephone communications between the US and foreign nationals. According to the Prism PowerPoint slide, the data it can collect is essentially unlimited. For just $20 million a year, the agency is able to monitor “email, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, VoIP [internet phone calls], file transfers, video conferencing, notifications of target activity – logins etc, online social networking details” and a mysterious category called “special requests.”

Other disturbing details revealed by the leak include the court order that compels Verizon to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis, all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls,” and forbids Verizon from disclosing the existence of the order to anyone.

Snowden also divulged information that he claimed showed hacking by the NSA into computers in Hong Kong and mainland China.

After capturing public notice by releasing the sensitive documents, Snowden has eluded captivity and set out on a dubious globe-hopping venture that continues to attract worldwide attention.

And not all of that attention is positive. The 29-year-old fugitive’s actions were illegal, after all. Some are calling the leak that disclosed NSA bullying of private companies like Verizon, “treasonous.” Kentucky Republican Representative King said Sunday that he thinks it is, “important for the American people to realize that this guy is a traitor, a defector, he’s not a hero.”

But when asked for his own thoughts on the criminality of his actions, Snowden told The Guardian, “We have seen enough criminality on the part of government. It is hypocritical to make this allegation against me.”
  
One Senator seems ready to agree with Snowden’s charge of hypocrisy. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said Sunday that it remained to be determined how Snowden’s memory would go down into history, but gave an insightful warning regarding the opinions of generations to come.

"They're going to contrast the behavior of James Clapper, our national intelligence director, with Edward Snowden," he said. "Mr. Clapper lied in Congress in defiance of the law in the name of security. Mr. Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy."

Paul was referring to an incident that took place in March, when Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked Clapper whether the NSA collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans."

"No sir," Clapper responded. "It does not. Not wittingly.”

“He [Clapper] said they were not collecting any data on American citizens,” Paul said, “and it turns out they're collecting millions of data on phone calls every day. So it was a lie. What I'm saying is that by lying to Congress, which is against the law, he severely damaged the credibility of the entire intelligence community."

"I would say that Mr. Snowden hasn't lied to anyone,” Paul continued.

"He did break his oath of office, but part of his oath of office is to the Constitution, and he believes that, when James Clapper came in March, our national director of intelligence came and lied, that he [Snowden] was simply coming forward and telling the truth that your government was lying. This is a big concern of mine, because it makes me doubt the administration and their word to us when they talk to us, because they have now admitted they will lie to us if they think it is in the name of national security."

Snowden and Clapper both broke the law, thus undermining our nation’s system of government. The difference is that one of them did so in the name of truth-telling and honesty and the other through lies and for the sake of keeping hidden what the American people have the right to know. One did so in the name of correcting the ills of the system of government he breached, and the other for the sake of protecting those ills by burying them deeper yet into the gaping well of classified information.

 
 
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Whistleblower who revealed NSA wiretapping activities speaks out from hiding in Hong Kong: "you are not even aware of what is possible."

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on June 16th, 2013)

In a scene like a nightmare, the US government confirmed on Thursday night the existence of a mass-scale federal wiretapping project called Prism. The confirmation from the feds came after an anonymous whistleblower leaked the relevant documents. What the materials disclosed was horrifying.

For years now, Prism has been utilized by the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor internet and telephone communications between the US and foreign nationals. And, according to the Prism PowerPoint slide, the data it can collect is essentially unlimited. For just 20 million a year, the agency is able to monitor "email, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, VoIP [internet phone calls], file transfers, video conferencing, notifications of target activity – logins etc, online social networking details" and a mysterious category called "special requests.”

Major companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Youtube, Skype, Google, and Yahoo are involved, although it is not yet known whether they participated knowingly or involuntarily.

Earlier this week, it also was revealed that the NSA has been collecting telephone data and phone records from millions of US Verizon customers under a classified court order. The order directs Verizon Business Network Services to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis” the “following tangible things”:

“All call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

To add insult to injury, the order forbids Verizon from revealing this fact to anyone, including, obviously, their own customers. There is also nothing is the order telling the NSA when this information must be destroyed.

Amy Davidson of The New Yorker, writes,

“The government seems to have a list of all the people that Verizon customers called and who called them; how long they spoke; and, perhaps—depending on how precise the cell-phone-tower information in the metadata is, where they were on a given day…And the customers of other providers shouldn’t be reassured: it is likely that this order is simply one of a type—the one that fell off the truck.”

This starkly alarming data leak discloses only the latest incident in a string of deceitful and abhorrent acts perpetrated by the current administration. But it is one of the most significant, as it reveals the tip of the wide iceberg of federal espionage that fetters the freedom of the every American citizen.

Today, the 29-year-old NSA whistleblower responsible for the leak has come forward. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” said Edward Snowden, who is a former technical assistant for the CIA and has been working with the NSA for four years now.

In an interview with The Guardian this morning, he explained his decision to disclose the explosive information,

"The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards…You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place…I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."

Snowden, who says he’s had a comfortable life with a salary of around $200,000, a home in Hawaii with his girlfriend and a loving family, chose three weeks ago to leave his former existence behind. Perhaps forever.

“I am willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," he said.

After copying the last set of pertinent documents for the leak, Snowden boarded a plane for Hong Kong and took up residence in a hotel, where he is still residing. His lifestyle may seem paranoid to some, but Snowden understands the capabilities of the government that is hunting him. He used to be one of them. Having observed the Obama’s administration’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers, he realizes that his situation is precarious at best. He also had some comments to make about President Obama’s marked policy shift on personal liberties, saying,

“A lot of people in 2008 voted for Obama. I did not vote for him. I voted for a third party. But I believed in Obama's promises. I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor."

Snowden says he fully expects the US government to do everything in its power to seek him out and punish him for the remainder of his life, however long that may prove to be.
 
"I am not afraid,” he says, “because this is the choice I've made."

Snowden’s biggest fear is that the revelation of his identity will distract attention from the issues at hand. "I don't want public attention,” he said, “because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

 
 
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British Comedian Rowan Atkinson, 'Mr. Bean'



When Insults Are Illegal:

British comedian Rowan Atkinson warns about ‘The Outrage Industry’ and the ‘Creeping Culture of Censoriousness’

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on October 29th, 2012)





A few years back, a young Oxford University student who was out celebrating the conclusion of some exams, came out of a bar and made a childish comment to a policeman. This comment landed him in jail. The comment? “Excuse me, do you realize your horse is gay?”  Rather than ignoring him, the policeman demanded he pay a fine of £80. When he refused, he was arrested under Section 5 of the 1986 UK Public Order Act. Thames Valley Police said: “He made homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by.”  

" The whole thing is absolutely absurd," said Mr. Brown. "There were about six police officers and a whole load of patrol cars.”

A jury eventually overturned the ruling, but not before calling significant public attention to Section 5, the infamous clause in the Public Order Act which states that,

A person is guilty of an offence if he:

        (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

        (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

    within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

British comedian Rowan Atkinson, in a short speech last week at the Reform Section 5 Campaign’s Parliamentary Reception, called it, “That thing where you can arrest anybody for saying anything that might be construed by anyone else as insulting.”

Other victims of Section 5 include a Christian preacher who told a passer-by that homosexuality was immoral, a 16-year-old holding a poster that read, “Scientology is a Dangerous Cult,” two hotel managers who engaged a customer in conversation about Mohammed and Islamic dress for women, and a preacher who told police privately, upon being questioned, that he thought homosexuality was a sin. Atheist John Richards, who placed a sign in his window which stated, “religions are fairy stories for adults,” was told by police that he could be arrested under Section 5. Animal rights protestors who displayed toy seals dyed with red food coloring were threatened with arrest and seizure and told by police that the toys were distressing to members of the public. Following a complaint from a customer, police reportedly told Christian café owner Jamie Murray to stop playing DVDs that showed texts from the New Testament in his establishment.

It’s interesting to note that in most of the cases mentioned above, the supposed offenders were eventually acquitted, although sometimes at significant cost to themselves and to British taxpayers who had to fund the ridiculous court costs accrued by the imprudent actions of public servants who were given free reign by an absurd law. In his speech earlier this month, Rowan Atkinson touched on the inherent absurdity of attempts to ban insulting language, saying,

“The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult by some parties. Ridicule, easily construed as insult. Sarcasm, unfavorable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, -- can be interpreted as insult. And since so many things can be interpreted as insulting, it is hardly surprising that so many things have been.”

To ban insults is to outlaw a form of speech that is central to most disagreements and controversies – even those which are wholly cordial. Anytime there is a verbalized clash of ideas, there is a likelihood that one party will poke fun at another. In many cases, there is also the possibility that one party will completely lose his or her head and spout off something really offensive. There is always the probability that the two sides in a public debate will publicly declare their opponents to be wrong. This is not a travesty that calls for government intervention but an unavoidable by-product of free speech rights – and of human nature.

Atkinson wisely suggests that a culture which cannot handle insults needs to be exposed to them more regularly. “ For me,” he says, “the best way to increase society’s resistance to insulting or offensive speech, is to allow a lot more of it. We need to build our immunity to taking offense, so that we can deal with the issues that perfectly justified criticism can raise. The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, but more speech.”

This brings us to the central problem with laws banning insults, which is that the task of deciding what type of language is insulting is left to the government. A ban on insulting language is not like a ban on swearing or a ban on using curse words in public places. It is a ban which can encompass even justified criticism. Indeed, it has the Kafkaesque quality of being a ban on nothing in particular and therefore on potentially anything.

They [police officers] don’t seem to need a real victim,” Atkinson warns. “They need only to make the judgment that somebody could have been offended if they had heard or read what has been said.”

It is these open-ended bans and this undefined repression which makes the modern era’s war on intolerance so deadly to liberty and so poisonous to law. A nation which is governed by the proverbial “rule of law” is a nation in which citizens are able to easily ascertain what is and is not allowed. The rule of law is characterized by lucid legal language and common sense judgments which are intelligible to the majority of the citizens. It is only in despotic nations that citizens must live in constant fear of breaking some law which they have never heard of and which makes no sense to them at all.

We live in a country where insults are illegal,” laments the Reform Section 5 Campaign’s official video. If you’re an American citizen, you still live in a country where insults are legal. Unfortunately, if the trends in Western Europe and Canada are any indication of the future, you are going to have to fight with all of your might to keep it that way.




(This article first posted at The College Conservative)
 
 
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GOP Presidential Candidate Ron Paul



Ron Paul is showing remarkable foresight in paving the way for a future generation of liberty people, even as he begins to see the end of his own road in sight

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on August 23, 2012)

According to the latest reports, the "liberty man” is not going to be given an official speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa at the end of the month. Texas congressman Ron Paul is missing from the RNC’s list of announced speakers, The Blaze reported Friday. Although this is hardly an unexpected omission, it has served to heighten the tension surrounding the event. Delegates from all over the country will meet in Florida on August 27th to nominate the Republican Party’s presidential candidate and Barack Obama’s opponent. Paul supporters, which comprise a hefty number of the delegates, will certainly be making their presence felt, as they have been doing for months.

The Ron Paul Campaign has
planned a rally to be held on the afternoon of August 26th, with the theme ‘We Are the Future – A Rally for the Liberty Delegates’. Another rally organized by Paul’s supporters will run simultaneously in Tampa. These events are expected to draw huge crowds and put a spotlight on Paul’s gigantic influence, despite the Republican Party’s snub.

Paul supporters, of course, are still holding out for a Ron Paul presidency. Although it’s becoming increasingly likely that the party will nominate Mitt Romney at the convention, it is theoretically possible for Paul’s delegates to pull off a last-minute takeover next week. This possibility may shed some light on the Republican Party’s seemingly dangerous and unwise decision not to humor Paul supporters by giving their spokesman a speaking slot. Perhaps the RNC organizers know that Paul shines on a podium when given a reasonable amount of time to explain his views and that when his remarks are not limited to sound-bite-length statements in a televised debate, his fact-based arguments are fascinatingly convincing.  


Paul supporters are weary of seeing their man
ignored and cheated out of his votes. Many are fed up with the party and some have taken to wearing buttons which declare boldly, “No One But Paul: good luck winning without us!” They understand something the GOP doesn’t seem to grasp. They have become a massive electoral base, and if they abandon the party this November, Mitt Romney and his supporters will be in a sorry state.

But what about the man himself? Where does Ron Paul come down in all of this confusion? Although he can’t help but be aware of the injustices done to his campaign and of his supporters’ frustration, the congressman is showing remarkable foresight in paving the way for a future generation of liberty people, even as he himself begins to see the end of his own road in sight.


In a message to his supporters, concerning the rally his campaign has planned in Tampa, Paul said,
“I’m sure it will not only be a great time, but it will also go a long way to proving you and I are the future of the Republican Party.”

Ron Paul’s dream is to see his supporters take the message of liberty into the heart of the GOP and transform the Republican Party. He wants to see his dedication to fair play, his passion for the Constitution, his commitment to push back on the overreaching US government, and his enmity towards the Federal Reserve reach the utmost corners of the establishment. He wants the Republican Party to radically redefine its idea of government authority.

Paul continues to urge
respectful discourse. He know his supporters are inclined to get excited, and he wants them to fight their battles courteously, bearing in mind that kindness and patience are more effective than threats and taunts. He is paving a way for them to take when he is gone. Ron Paul still has hope for the GOP. He has a vision of what the GOP can become.

Paul knows that he won’t be around forever and that unless his supporters can learn how to fiercely guard their principles and at the same time work amiably with the powers that be, they will soon become an irrelevant minority. He understands that they must find a way to keep their passion pure and unadulterated and still show the GOP they can be team players. He understands there is a danger that the movement he has started will die out with him, and he wants his supporters to understand that they will have to move on when he is gone and fight for the truth even without a charismatic and popular leader to unite them.  He wants them to carry their values forward even without a nationally recognized spokesperson to lead the charge. Does he hope his followers will one day be able to charge under the banner of the GOP?


Fortunately, the GOP has left some loopholes open for kindly and pleasant discourse with the Paul supporters next week. They have announced that Ron Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul will be given a
“very prominent speaking place,” and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told Fox News yesterday that Ron Paul supporters are "welcomed with open arms" to the convention.

There are a lot of things that remain to be seen. It remains to be seen whether Paul supporters will embrace the path their leader has paved for them, or whether they will allow their resentment to get the best of them and to choke out the message they bear. Additionally, it remains to be seen whether the liberty people will be able to find enough common ground with the GOP to enable them to get along, as Paul seems to hope they will. “Unity is important but what do we unify behind?” Paul asked a crowd at the Texas Republican State Convention in June, making it clear that he doesn’t advocate giving an inch of the moral high ground. It remains to be seen how the GOP will treat these steadfast and impassioned liberty people.

 
 
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Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Major media networks on both sides of the political divide agree about one thing -- but are they right?

(Posted by Bryana Joy on May 25, 2012)

The major conservative and liberal media networks have found one thing to agree about: birthers are wackos, freaks and raving lunatics, to be avoided at all costs. The mainstream liberal pundits poke fun at the “conspiracy theories” they turn out in endless succession and conservative writers bemoan the way they waste their energies on irrelevant issues and detract from the credibility of conservatism. Unfortunately, the stigma that has been attached to these doubters has prevented many of their very valid concerns from receiving the media attention they deserve and has forced the natural-born citizen skeptics into an ignominious corner of public affairs where they can be comfortably avoided by respectable people.

Obviously, not all birthers are created equal: there’s birthers and then there’s birthers. Overall, though, the birthers have a lot of serious questions to ask about the Obama administration and the President of the United States, if only we can bring ourselves to pay attention to them.


However, regardless of whether or not their concerns turn out to be valid, it is a fatal mistake to shrug off the birthers as pursuing a “pointless” aim or to condemn them for distracting the American people from the damage that President Obama is doing to the union. On the contrary, it could be said that the birthers have hit upon the very crux of the matter of President Obama’s alarming authoritarianism.


Whether the birth certificates that the President has released are fraudulent or not, the doubters have a legitimate reason to be perturbed: it took President Obama three years to provide his evidence, and when he did so he did it in an arrogant and condescending manner. “We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” he said. “We’ve got better stuff to do.” Better stuff to do than assuring the American people that their Constitution has not been violated by their President? Better stuff to do than complying with the legal requirements of the nation that has elected you to be its leader? I think not.


Furthermore, there has been a slew of worrying claims leveled against the birth certificates that were finally released, and some of these are disturbing enough and compelling enough to merit some consideration and independent research at the very least.


In the first of a few examples,
Breitbart has released some unsettling information this week. As Mark Steyn puts it, “the lunatic theory that Barack Obama doesn’t meet the minimum eligibility requirements to be president of the United States was first advanced by Barack Obama’s official representative.”

CBS News reported several weeks ago that Arizona Sheriff Joe announced that his six-month investigation had found that "probable cause exists indicating that forgery and fraud may have been committed" in the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate.Controversial journalist Jerome Corsi claimed last year that moles in the Department of Health in Hawaii say the birth certificate which the President ultimately released in 2011 was not present in the department records just a few weeks before it was released.


When investigators commissioned by Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio to examine Barack Obama’s eligibility for office went to look through the Immigration and Naturalization Service travel records, they found that the records for the week of Obama’s birth were missing.

Is Barack Obama a natural-born citizen? Is the birth certificate that he released three years after his election a valid document or a forgery?  We may never know the answers to these questions, but we should be able to expect our President to take our laws seriously and to respond with grace and understanding to challengers who demand further proof that he is what he says he is.


(First posted at The College Conservative)
 
 
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Trayvon Martin, victim of February 26th shooting incident

"What’s special about him is that the newsmakers have latched onto his story, & insist on hashing out every little nano-second of intonation in the small amount of data available"

(Posted by Bryana Joy on April 25, 2012)


On Saturday night a man was beaten up so badly by a mob of African-Americans that he’s in critical condition today. Witnesses say that as the attackers walked away, one of them remarked, “now that’s justice for Trayvon Martin.”  

A few days ago, painter Michael D’Antuono sparked outrage with
his painting, A Tale of Two Hoodies, which depicts Trayvon Martin as a small child extending a bag of candy to a gun-wielding officer in a KKK mask. Martin’s package of sweets is labeled share size, implying that he’s offering the other to partake of them. The officer is shown aiming his weapon at the infantilized Martin’s skull.

It is not my intention, however, to dwell on any of these rather disturbing incidents, or to analyze the role of celebrity support for Martin in the resulting conflicts, or to point out the fact that President Obama should be expected to make a statement condemning the violence that has occurred in retaliation against George Zimmerman, but to ask the real question, and the one that is not being asked by enough people: what’s so special about Trayvon Martin? And why has his story claimed so much of our lives?


It should be over by now – the public’s fascination with the crime scene and their outrage over the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26. It’s been almost two months, after all. And in that time period there have been almost 2000 gun-related homicides in the US. What’s so special about Trayvon Martin?


What’s special about him is that the newsmakers have latched onto his story, and insist on hashing out every little nano-second of intonation in the small amount of data that is available.


As a proud television non-owner, I acquire my understanding of current events through the medium of internet. I have no patience with commercials and I enjoy having the freedom to choose to read about the stories that interest me and that I consider significant, rather than relying on the altruism and qualifications of the talking heads. Consequently, throughout the first month of the duration on the Trayvon Martin saga, although I was cursorily aware of the incident, having read several stories concerning it, I failed to understand what had prompted this one tragic event to skyrocket to the top of trending search-engine terms lists, and to make out of every social network account-owner a fiercely opinionated political enthusiast.

In the last week of March, my eyes were opened when I stayed for several days in the home of some friends who owned a television and ended up watching the brief clip of George Zimmerman entering the police station at least 100 times.


You know the one: he walks into the police station.


And then again. And then again. And then again. And then again. And then again. And all the while some bright-eyed young person in a suit stares straight at the camera and tries to speak animatedly about the month-old story and the skittles and the absence of blood on Zimmerman’s scalp in the 5 seconds of evidence that is available.


But it isn’t like that when you’re seeing it on the screen. When the actual images are flashing before you and the music is playing and the reporters are giving you the run-down in very official-sounding voices, an illusion is spun around the case that makes every solitary viewer feel like his knowledge of the Trayvon Martin story has plugged him into some huge, pulsing organism of national furor. The spin has given viewers the illusion of a
cause, of something to stand up for. It has been seized upon by the major media networks not only as an opportunity to promote their particular ideologies, but also to hold the attention of the people of the United States.

The newsmaking establishment has spun us another distraction. Our job as citizens is to figure out what they want to distract us
from.

Citizens of the United States, let’s get on it.


 

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