California Senator Rejects Criticism of Privacy Violations, Husband's Deal

Dianne Feinstein

The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee promptly defended on June 6 the massive invasions of Americans' privacy increasingly apparent under her watch.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, right, justified government surveillance of citizen phone calls, emails, social media and other electronic communications as necessary for national security.

Her defense of Orwellian Big Brother techniques matched those of most other Capitol Hill and Obama administration leaders. One news report said, Administration, lawmakers defend NSA program to collect phone records.

Last summer, I wrote how even a three-term Democratic colleague, Ron Wyden of Oregon, said he had no power to call any witnesses on privacy issues. The column was Senator’s Lonely Battle For Public’s Privacy Rights.

Moreover, Feinstein's remarks paralleled her recent defense of her husband's controversial receipt of an exclusive federal contract to sell billions of dollars of post offices and surrounding land for a 6 percent commission.

Feinstein's staff says that the enrichement of her husband, Richard C. Blum, from decades of federal contracts does not represent a conflict because he makes decisions independent from her, and much of her own wealth is in a blind trust.

"Sen. Feinstein is not involved with and does not discuss any of her husband's business decisions with him," Brian Weiss, Feinstein's communications director, told a SFGate reporter this year regarding the Postal Service controversy. "Her husband's holdings are his separate personal property. Sen. Feinstein's assets are held in a blind trust. That arrangement has been in place since before she came to the Senate in 1992." In 2012, SFGate reported additionally, Feinstein voted for an amendment to a postal reform bill that would have temporarily halted post office closings. The amendment was defeated in the House.

The staffer's rationales do not dispell the problem. Commissions going to Blum are likely also to land in family coffers. Feinstein's Senate vote can easily be inconsequential given the Senate's arcane rules and cozy, back-scratching culture whereby members approve deals that help each others' families and cronies.

Part of the culture of looting the country is the privatization of goods and services such as the postal service. Congress has imposed special rules on postal service pension funding that force emergency property sales of the kind that Blum is currently exploiting. The General Services Administration was created to handle the federal government's real estate needs.

More generally, an increasingly timid national media is reluctant to tackle tough issues. A New York Times news article about the postal buildling sales, one of the few mainstream columns on the topic, failed to mention either Feinstein or her husband.

Feinstein's Senate roles illustrate why incumbents prevail so often. They rarely criticize any powerful institution or each other. As a result, they amass such fabulous wealth for themselves, their cronies, and families as to be almost unbeatable after their first terms. This is particularly true in California, which has expensive costs for campaigning.

Feinstein's power over the Senate Intelligence Committee is particularly helpful for the military-security complex.

As a Democrat, she helps provides a bipartisan, solid-front with Republicans in their fight for the freedom of agencies to target any Americans they want with high-spending programs for the cause of national security.

Importantly, almost all hearings are in secret, with few witnesses ever named. Leading critics of the nation's runaway spy program targeting Americans say they have never been invited to testify, as my WhoWhatWhy column indicated last summer.

The column describes how I urged Wyden to have the Intelligence committee summon at least three witnesses:

One would be Joseph Nacchio, the former Qwest CEO who is the only Bell or social media CEO known to have rejected the Bush administration's request for corporate data so that the government could spy on customers.

Additionally, I suggested that he and Feinstein's committee invite Mark Klein, the AT&T technician who discovered the secret spying program in 2004 and fought valiently to expose the problem while the mainstream media delayed or killed the story as the request of federal officials. Finally, I suggested the committee invite Thomas Drake, the former high-ranking National Security Agency executive who protested the legality and expense of the spy program internally for years until communicating with a reporter about unclassified material. The Obama administration then sought to imprison Drake for the rest of this life on spy charges.

Wyden emphasized that he has no power to invite witnesses, a prerogative only of Feinstein.

Update: The Justice Integrity Project published on June 16: Backgrounder on Obama's Big Data Domestic Spying System. The purpose was to resolve conflicting claims about recent revelations about the Obama-Bush domestic spying program.

Washington Post, The age of Dianne Feinstein, Emily Heil, June 25, 2013. At 80 years old, the Democratic senator is blazing a new political trail as a symbol — an unwilling one — of the changing workplace.



Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment


At left is the National Security Agency's new Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. The government is collecting the records of virtually all U.S. customers, according to independent experts. The government defines its activities in a way that it says complies with relevant law, with all relevant proceedings secret. The data center had a VIP ribbon-cutting ceremony May 30, and moves into formal launch in October. Details below are quoted from an official NSA website:

The Utah Data Center, code-named Bumblehive, is the first Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative (IC CNCI) data center designed to support the Intelligence Community's efforts to monitor, strengthen and protect the nation. NSA is the executive agent for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and will be the lead agency at the center. The steady rise in available computer power and the development of novel computer platforms will enable us to easily turn the huge volume of incoming data into an asset to be exploited, for the good of the nation.

The Utah Data Center is currently under construction and is expected to open in October 2013. Our 1.5 billion-dollar one million square-foot Bluffdale / Camp Williams facility will house a 100,000 sq-ft mission critical data center. The remaining 900,000 SF will be used for technical support and administrative space. Other supporting facilities include water treatment facilities, chiller plant, power substations, vehicle inspection facility, visitor control center, and sixty diesel-fueled emergency standby generators and fuel facility for a 3-day 100% power backup capability. We're using a Critical Path Method (CPM) schedule to track the cost and resource data for over 26,000 activities. The project initially required over a million cubic yards of earthwork and nearly seven miles of new roadways. The massive twenty-building complex is being completed in three phases. The first phase was completed last Fall and includes the first of four data halls.

Editor's Recommendations

Guardian, Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind revelations of NSA surveillance, Glenn Greenwald, left, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras, June 9, 2013. The 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows. The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell. The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said. Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world's most secretive organisations – the NSA. In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant." Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

Huffington Post, Rand Paul: NSA Surveillance Programs Warrant Supreme Court Challenge, Mollie Reilly June 9, 2013. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY.), right, said Sunday that he is weighing a Supreme Court challenge to the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance programs, calling the organization's collection of records an "extraordinary invasion of privacy." Paul said, "I'm going to be seeing if I can challenge this at the Supreme Court level." He continued on Fox News Sunday, "I’m going to be asking all the internet providers and all of the phone companies: Ask your customers to join me in a class action lawsuit. If we get 10 million Americans saying we don’t want our phone records looked at, then maybe someone will wake up and something will change in Washington." 

New York Times, Tech Companies Concede to Surveillance Program, Claire Cain Miller, June 7, 2013. When government officials came to Silicon Valley to demand easier ways for the world’s largest Internet companies to turn over user data as part of a secret surveillance program, the companies bristled. In the end, though, many cooperated at least a bit.

While handing over data in response to a legitimate FISA request is a legal requirement, making it easier for the government to get the information is not, which is why Twitter could decline to do so.

Details on the discussions help explain the disparity between initial descriptions of the government program and the companies’ responses. Instead of adding a back door to their servers, the companies were essentially asked to erect a locked mailbox and give the government the key, people briefed on the negotiations said. Facebook, for instance, built such a system for requesting and sharing the information, they said. The data shared in these ways, the people said, is shared after company lawyers have reviewed the FISA request according to company practice. It is not sent automatically or in bulk, and the government does not have full access to company servers. Instead, they said, it is a more secure and efficient way to hand over the data.

Tech companies might have also denied knowledge of the full scope of cooperation with national security officials because employees whose job it is to comply with FISA requests are not allowed to discuss the details even with others at the company, and in some cases have national security clearance, according to both a former senior government official and a lawyer representing a technology company.

Related News Coverage


Zero Hedge, Thousands Of Firms Trade Confidential Data With The US Government In Exchange For Classified Intelligence, Tyler Durden, June 14, 2013. The rabbit hole just got deeper. A whole lot deeper. On Sunday we predicated that "there's one reason why the administration, James Clapper and the NSA should just keep their mouths shut as the PRISM-gate fallout escalates: with every incremental attempt to refute some previously unknown facet of the US Big Brother state, a new piece of previously unleaked information from the same intelligence organization now scrambling for damage control, emerges and exposes the brand new narrative as yet another lie, forcing even more lies, more retribution against sources, more journalist persecution and so on." And like a hole that just gets deeper the more you dug and exposes ever more dirt, tonight's installment revealing one more facet of the conversion of a once great republic into a great fascist, "big brother" state, comes from Bloomberg which reports that "thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said."

Bloomberg, U.S. Agencies Said to Swap Data With Thousands of Firms, Michael Riley, June 13, 2013. Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said. In addition to private communications, information about equipment specifications and data needed for the Internet to work -- much of which isn’t subject to oversight because it doesn’t involve private communications -- is valuable to intelligence, U.S. law-enforcement officials and the military. These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency. The role of private companies has come under intense scrutiny since his disclosure this month that the NSA is collecting millions of U.S. residents’ telephone records and the computer communications of foreigners from Google Inc (GOOG). and other Internet companies under court order. Many of these same Internet and telecommunications companies voluntarily provide U.S. intelligence organizations with additional data, such as equipment specifications, that don’t involve private communications of their customers, the four people said.

Institute for Political Economy, What Is The Government’s Agenda? Paul Craig Roberts, June 11, 2013. It has been public information for a decade that the US government secretly, illegally, and unconstitutionally spies on its citizens. Congress and the federal courts have done nothing about this extreme violation of the US Constitution and statutory law, and the insouciant US public seems unperturbed. In 2004 a whistleblower informed the New York Times that the National Security Agency (NSA) was violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by ignoring the FISA court and spying on Americans without obtaining the necessary warrants. By the time the New York Times published the story of the illegal spying one year later, the law-breaking government had had time to mitigate the offense with ex post facto law or executive orders and explain away its law-breaking as being in the country’s interest. There is no longer any doubt whatsoever that the US government is lawless, that it regards the US Constitution as a scrap of paper, that it does not believe Americans have any rights other than those that the government tolerates at any point in time, and that the government has no fear of being held accountable by the weak and castrated US Congress, the sycophantic federal courts, a controlled media, and an insouciant public.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. What is the purpose of the spying program?  Even if an American believes the official stories of 9/11 and the Boston Marathon Bombing, these are the only two terrorist acts in the US that resulted in the lost of human life in 12 years. Why should the Constitution and civil liberty be deep-sixed because of two alleged terrorist acts in 12 years?  How safe is any American when their government regards every citizen as a potential suspect who has no rights? Why is there no discussion of this in American public life? Watch the presstitutes turn Snowden’s revelations into an account of his disaffection and motives and away from the existential threat to democracy and civil liberty. Clearly, “the war on terror” is a front for an undeclared agenda. The only information Americans have comes from whistleblowers, whom Obama ruthlessly prosecutes.

Hill, Sen. Feinstein calls Snowden's NSA leaks an 'act of treason,' Jeremy Herb and Justin Sink, June 10, 2013. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Monday said the 29-year-old man who leaked information about two national security programs is guilty of treason. Feinstein said that she doesn’t see National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden as a hero or a whistle blower.

FireDogLake, General Clapper Appears To Have Misled Congress And Public About NSA Program, DSWright, June 10, 2013. In testimony before Congress the Director of National Intelligence General James Clapper claimed there was no program to collect information on American citizens. "SENATOR RON WYDEN: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans? GENERAL JAMES CLAPPER: No sir. SENATOR WYDEN: It does not? GENERAL CLAPPER: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly." 

That is a direct denial of the information revealed by Edward Snowden regarding the NSA’s programs, which Clapper surely knew about. Clapper’s testimony at first glance appears to be intended to mislead Congress and the public. Clapper has now clarified his remarks in an interview with the National Journal. "Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Thursday that he stood by what he told Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in March when he said that the National Security Agency does not “wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans. '“What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. I stand by that,” Clapper told National Journal in a telephone interview.'"

As the video demonstrates, that is not what he said. He first gave a flat denial “No sir.” Then, when Clapper was pressed, he said if information was collected on Americans it was done “unwittingly,” which is also a knowingly false answer. Whether or not there will be consequences for Clapper’s deceptive testimony is anyone’s guess.

Senator Diane Feinstein has already indicated a disinterest in holding Clapper accountable, which may be indicative of a larger partisan mindset in the Senate about providing accountability to Obama Administration officials. While appearing on This Week the Senator reacted to video of Clapper’s testimony thus:

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think this is very hard. There is no more direct or honest person than Jim Clapper, and I think both Mike and I know that. You can misunderstand the question. This is one of the dilemmas of talking about it. He could have thought the question had content or something, but it is true that this is a wide collection of phone records, as Mike said. No name, no content. But the number to number, the length of time, the kind of thing that’s on the telephone bill, and we have to deal with that.

Politico, NSA leaker reveals self, has no apologies, Reid J. Epstein, June 9, 2013. The leaker is taking credit for exposing the NSA’s PRISM program. Snowden told the Guardian that he has gone to great lengths to maintain his digital privacy, going so far as to keep pillows under his door frame to interfere with listening devices and maintain a hood over his computer when entering passwords to block any hidden cameras. “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” he told the paper. “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.” Snowden, according to the Guardian, copied a series of NSA documents from a Hawaii office where he worked until late May, when he requested According to the Guardian, Snowden was raised in North Carolina and suburban Maryland. The paper reported that he never completed high school, yet was able to enter a U.S. Army Special Forces training program in order to fight in the Iraq war. The paper said he later received a GED. The Guardian reported that Snowden was discharged from the Army after breaking his legs in a training accident. Then, the paper said, he joined the NSA where it reported his “understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.

Huffington Post, Glenn Greenwald On 'This Week': 'You Should' Expect More Revelations From Me, Rebecca Shapiro, June 9, 2013. The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald appeared on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday and told host George Stephanopoulos that the public should expect more revelations from him.

Reuters via Huffington Post, NSA Leaks Investigation Report Filed, Timothy Gardner and Mark Hosenball, June 8, 2013. A U.S. intelligence agency requested a criminal probe on Saturday into the leak of highly classified information about secret surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper launched an aggressive defense of a secret government data collection program. Clapper, right, blasted what he called "reckless disclosures" of a highly classified spy agency project code-named PRISM. It was not known how broad a leaks investigation was requested by the super-secret NSA, but Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper's office, said a "crimes report has been filed." The report goes to the Justice Department. Prosecutors have brought a series of high-profile leak investigations under President Barack Obama. U.S. officials said the NSA leaks were so astonishing they expected the Justice Department to take the case. In a statement earlier on Saturday, Clapper acknowledged PRISM's existence by name for the first time and said it had been mischaracterized by the media. The project was legal, not aimed at U.S. citizens and had thwarted threats against the country, he said. "Over the last week we have seen reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe," Clapper said in a statement. He said the surveillance activities reported in the Washington Post and Britain's Guardian newspaper were lawful and conducted under authorities approved by Congress. "Significant misimpressions" have resulted from recent articles, he said.

Tech Dirt, President Obama 'Welcomes' The Debate On Surveillance That He's Avoided For Years Until It Was Forced Upon Him, Mike Masick, June 7, 2013. President Obama's incredibly weak response to the revelations this week of widespread data collection of pretty much everything by the NSA is to say that he "welcomes" the debate. But, of course, he hasn't actually welcomed the debate at all, because people have tried to bring that debate to him for years, and he's brushed them off.

Ed Bott Report via ZD Net, The real story in the NSA scandal is the collapse of journalism, Ed Bott, June 8, 2013. Summary: A bombshell story published in the Washington Post this week alleged that the NSA had enlisted nine tech giants, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple, in a massive program of online spying. Now the story is unraveling, and the Post has quietly changed key details. What went wrong? One day later, with no acknowledgment except for a change in the timestamp, the Post revised the story, backing down from sensational claims it made originally. But the damage was already done.

CNET, No evidence of NSA's 'direct access' to tech companies, Sources challenge reports alleging National Security Agency is "tapping directly into the central servers." Instead, they say, the spy agency is obtaining orders under process created by Congress, Declan McCullagh, Updated June 8, 2013. In response to outcry over PRISM, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence has released some details. Among other things, he says the government "does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers" and that PRISM-related activities are conducted "under court supervision." The National Security Agency has not obtained direct access to the systems of Apple, Google, Facebook, and other major Internet companies, CNET has learned. Recent reports in The Washington Post and The Guardian claimed a classified program called PRISM grants "intelligence services direct access to the companies' servers" and that "from inside a company's data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes." Those reports are incorrect and appear to be based on a misreading of a leaked Powerpoint document, according to a former government official who is intimately familiar with this process of data acquisition and spoke today on condition of anonymity.

Washington Post, U.S., company officials: Internet surveillance does not indiscriminately mine data, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Ellen Nakashima and Barton Gellman, June 8, 2013. The director of national intelligence on Saturday stepped up his public defense of a top-secret government data surveillance program as technology companies began privately explaining the mechanics of its use. The program, code-named PRISM, has enabled national security officials to collect e-mail, videos, documents and other material from at least nine U.S. companies over six years, including Google, Microsoft and Apple, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post. The disclosures about PRISM have renewed a national debate about the surveillance systems that sprang up after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, how broad those systems might be and the extent of their reach into American lives.

Washington Post, Vast surveillance programs renew debate about oversight, Robert Barnes, Timothy B. Lee and Ellen Nakashima, June 8, 2013. The disclosure of vast government surveillance programs has renewed the debate about whether the kind of transparent oversight that Americans expect from their government can work if it might compromise efforts to keep them safe from terrorism. President Obama and his national security leaders have asserted that vigorous oversight of government surveillance of phone calls and Internet data exists and denounced media reports that brought the programs to public attention. Can the kind of transparent oversight Americans expect from their government work if it might compromise efforts to keep them safe from terrorism?

Washington Post, Obama defends sweeping surveillance efforts, Philip Rucker, Sean Sullivan and and Aaron Blake, June 7, 2013. President Obama strongly defended the government’s secret surveillance of people’s phone records and Internet activities Friday, saying there are “a whole bunch of safeguards involved” and that Congress has repeatedly authorized the programs. Commenting on the surveillance for the first time since news organizations revealed the sweeping National Security Agency programs this week, Obama highlighted limits to the programs to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens and said the surveillance has helped the government thwart terrorist attacks. “They make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity,” Obama said. He added that the programs are “under very strict supervision by all three branches of government and they do not involve listening to people’s phone calls, do not involve reading the e-mails of U.S. citizens and U.S. residents.”

Huffington Post, What Is PalTalk? Video Chat Service Among Facebook, Google And Other Big Names Being Spied On, Alexis Kleinman, June 7, 2013. Late Thursday, major reports from The Washington Post and The Guardian revealed that the U.S. government is collecting data from nine of the biggest Internet companies in the country. The list of firms is composed of nearly all household names -- Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple -- in addition to one lesser-known company: PalTalk. The Jericho, N.Y.-based company calls itself the "largest online video chat room community." Of the other firms associated with the National Security Agency's so-called PRISM program, PalTalk sound most similar to Microsoft-owned Skype. Started in 1998, the site's features include video chat rooms and free group video calling for up to 10 users at a time on both desktop and mobile. Users can also pay for more features. The company was founded by Jason Katz. But with 4 million members, according to its website, Paltalk has a significantly smaller userbase than the other companies on the NSA's list. So what makes this small video chat service interesting to the U.S. government? PalTalk was allegedly used a good deal during the "Arab Spring," the series of protests across the Middle East and North Africa that began at the beginning of 2011.
Wayne Madsen Report, Update 1x. A wilderness of PRISMs, Wayne Madsen, June 8, 2013 (Subscription required). Palantir Technologies, Inc. received start-up finds from the CIA's IN-Q-TEL venture capital firm that expects to see a return on its investments in companies coming up with ways to better spy on Americans. Palantir now denies that its PRISM system, a powerful Internet scanning tool, is related to the National Security Agency's PRISM data mining tool that collects meta-data from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.

Huffington Post, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page Slam 'Outrageous' PRISM Reports, Dino Grandoni, June 7, 2013. The leaders of the country's largest technology companies are apparently taking personally allegations that they are cooperating in a covert program that funnels users' information to the government. Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page, the chief executive officiers of Facebook and Google, respectively, each issued strongly worded statements late Friday, denying any involvement in the so-called PRISM program. "I want to respond personally to the outrageous press reports about PRISM," Zuckerberg wrote in a public Facebook message that was liked 69,000 times in the 21 minutes after it was posted. "Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers." Page similarly pushed back in a blog post cosigned by Google's chief lawyer, David Drummond, titled "What the...?" The original version of the Post's story suggested the firms were voluntarily giving the government direct access to their servers -- a claim the paper later seemed to hedge. Zuckerberg and Page said they hand over information to authorities only when legally compelled to do so. Page cited Google's frequently issued transparency reports, which detail the volume of data requests from governments around the world, as evidence of Google's commitment to user privacy. Such unambiguous denials are rare for corporations. Compare the tech companies' response to that of Verizon, which refused to acknowledge its cooperation with the NSA even to its own employees in a leaked internal memo.

Feinstein on Federal Snooping

AP via Huffington Post, NSA PRISM Program: Is Big Data Turning Government Into 'Big Brother?' Michael Liedtke, June 7, 2013.  With every phone call they make and every Web excursion they take, people are leaving a digital trail of revealing data that can be tracked by profit-seeking companies and terrorist-hunting government officials. The revelations that the National Security Agency is perusing millions of U.S. customer phone records at Verizon Communications and snooping on the digital communications stored by nine major Internet services illustrate how aggressively personal data is being collected and analyzed. Verizon is handing over so-called metadata, excerpts from millions of U.S. customer records, to the NSA under an order issued by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to a report in the British newspaper The Guardian. The report was confirmed Thursday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Huffington Post, Dianne Feinstein Says NSA Phone Records Surveillance Has Thwarted Terrorism, 'But That's Classified,' Matt Sledge, June 6, 2013. Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Thursday the National Security Agency program collecting domestic phone records has prevented terrorism. But she and other senators briefed on the program refused to delve into details about how it is used. Feinstein, right, spoke to reporters after the Intelligence Committee held a "highly classified" briefing on the vast NSA program, which Feinstein said had been put together "quickly" after The Guardian's report on its existence.

Washington Post, Administration, lawmakers defend NSA program to collect phone records, Ellen Nakashima and Ed O’Keefe, June 6, 2013. The Obama administration and key U.S. lawmakers on Thursday defended a secret National Security Agency telephone surveillance program that one congressman said had helped avert a terrorist attack in recent years. The program apparently has collected the telephone records of tens of millions of American customers of Verizon, one of the nation’s largest phone companies, under a top-secret court order. The government has built a national security and intelligence system so big, so complex and so hard to manage, no one really knows if it's fulfilling its most important purpose: keeping its citizens safe. The National Security Agency secretly collected phone records of millions of Verizon customers. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.),  who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the court order, issued in April, appears to be “the exact three-month renewal” of the program that has been underway for the past seven years. She said the program is “lawful.”

Washington Post, Documents: U.S. intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program, Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras, June 6, 2013. The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates, according to a top-secret document obtained by the Washington Post. The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley. Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

Washington Post, Administration, lawmakers defend NSA program to collect phone records, Ellen Nakashima and Ed O’Keefe, June 6, 2013. The Obama administration and key U.S. lawmakers on Thursday defended a secret National Security Agency telephone surveillance program that one congressman said had helped avert a terrorist attack in recent years. The program apparently has collected the telephone records of tens of millions of American customers of Verizon, one of the nation’s largest phone companies, under a top-secret court order. The government has built a national security and intelligence system so big, so complex and so hard to manage, no one really knows if it's fulfilling its most important purpose: keeping its citizens safe. The National Security Agency secretly collected phone records of millions of Verizon customers. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the court order, issued in April, appears to be “the exact three-month renewal” of the program that has been underway for the past seven years. She said the program is “lawful.”

Huffington Post, Mark Udall 'Extremely Concerned' About Warrantless Email Searches, Matt Sledge, May 9, 2013. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), right, said Thursday he was "extremely concerned" over revelations that the FBI continues to believe it can conduct warrantless email searches despite a federal appeals court's ruling that they are unconstitutional. Using a public records request, the American Civil Liberties Union received a set of FBI documents Wednesday. An internal June 2012 department guide included among the documents shows that the FBI believes it can obtain the contents of emails without a warrant if the email was sent or received through a third-party service. In at least one case before that guide was written, however, a federal court disagreed: In a 2010 decision, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found that emailers using cloud services have a reasonable expectation of privacy and are protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution's warrant requirement.

Ron WydenWhoWhatWhy, Senator’s Lonely Battle For Public’s Privacy Rights, Andrew Kreig on Aug. 6, 2012. During the Bush administration, it seemed that nary a Republican—and just a handful of Democrats in Congress—spoke out about the government’s crackdown on civil liberties. Since a Democrat took power, the silence has spread. One notable exception is Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Wyden, left, continues a lonely battle to generate discussion and accountability where there is virtually none. Among his concerns are how Executive Branch officials resist providing meaningful estimates of whether it is only a few Americans–or vast numbers—who are being monitored without warrants. For example, while the public is generally aware that judges authorize limited numbers of wiretaps each year, it remains largely in the dark about newer and far more prevalent techniques, such as the routine use of cell phones as sophisticated tracking devices.  Wyden’s most recent effort involves placing a “hold” on the Senate’s reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court system—until he is able to learn more about how, post-9/11, the Executive Branch is using its powers.

Huffington Post, Hey America -- 'Can You Hear Me Now?!' Obama, Verizon, and Executive Power Run Amok, Kristen Breitweiser, June 6, 2013. hToday's news relating to the Verizon data and records siege speaks volumes about this president and his absolute abuse of power. And when coupled with Eric Holder's abuses regarding the targeting of journalists and whistleblowers, Obama's positioning of John Brennan at CIA and James Comey at FBI, along with Obama's shift of drone warfare from CIA to DOD, which will now conveniently enable drones to operate within our borders, we all should be very, very scared. Because dissent, discussion, debate can no longer exist with this sort of omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent government. In short, the deck is stacked against us. Years ago, while in the midst of fighting the Bush administration for access to 9/11 documents that the 9/11 Commission needed to conduct its investigation, I met some old law school buddies for drinks. During our conversations, I railed against the Patriot Act and its inherent triggers against "our" privacy rights.

Crony Capitalists Cashing In On Postal Properties?

Thom Hartmann, Post Office properties to be privatized by crony capitalists; Sen. Feinstein's husband profiteers again, Feb. 11, 2013.So difficult to choose a little headline for this one! I also considered these:  Wouldn't you know a Privatization scheme was behind latest Post Office story?  Washington Corrupted Ethics prime mover of Post Office Crony Capitalism scam  Repeat offenders are taking the public's money and are running  Corrupt Duo of Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blum at it Again. The story is from the bottom of the Business page of the San Francisco Chronicle in “The Bottom Line” column by Andrew S. Ross. So, it is reported, US Post Office buildings -- particularly historic, lovely old, well-maintained post office buildings in good locations -- are being sold off. [I interpret this as predatory capitalists rubbing their hands together in slobbering avarice and saying in phony reasonableness "Wellllll-- if the mail won't be delivered on Saturdays anymore, The People don't need these properties anymore, so PRIVATIZE THEM! Sell off the public property of The People to us in the private sector!"] The Postal Service has ended its previous practice of using multiple real estate agents nationwide for its dealings and is now giving All Selling Privileges to the CB Richard Ellis Groupof which California Senator Dianne Feinstein's husband Richard "Dick" Blum is Chair.

SF Gate, Grim outlook for post office buildings, Andrew S. Ross, Feb. 8, 2013. The U.S. Postal Service's move last week to end Saturday mail delivery can't bode well for efforts to save a number of historic post offices being sold in California, with possibly more to come. Currently, at least 12 post offices have been sold or put on the block in Northern California. A public hearing on a contested proposal to sell Berkeley's main post office is scheduled for later this month. Along with the move to five-day mail delivery, selling post office buildings is part of the Postal Service plan to save $20 billion over the next three years. More than 600 buildings have been "earmarked for disposal" nationwide, at a savings of $2.1 billion, according to the Postal Service's 2012 report to Congress. "Selling larger facilities is a means of getting cash flow and reducing our expenses," explained James Wigdel, a Postal Service spokesman in San Francisco. In charge of selling the facilities for the Postal Service is CB Richard Ellis Group, one of the world's largest real estate companies, chaired by San Francisco financier Dick Blum. CBRE, which has worked with the post office since 1997, was awarded the exclusive contract to market Postal Service facilities in 2011. Blum is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a relationship some critics of the post office have duly noted. "Historically, USPS has worked with multiple real estate service providers. The new contract enables USPS to consolidate these activities with one service provider," CBRE said in a statement at the time.

AlterNet, Scam Alert! Press Sleeps Through the Great Post Office Fire Sale, Gray Brechin, May 28, 2013. How much of our public domain will turn into private fortunes? In 1906, surveyor Stephen Puter wrote a tell-all book from prison, Looters of the Public Domain, which details how Puter transferred thousands of acres of prime timberlands in Oregon and Washington from public to private owners. This sort of hustle was common in the 19th century, when much of the public domain was enclosed and converted into private fortunes with congressional help. History is repeating itself today with the nation's postal service, and much of the press is asleep at the wheel. The public in 1906 became aware of frauds like Puter's because the U.S. then had a diverse and competitive media environment willing to support gumshoe journalists as well as a president willing to investigate and prosecute criminal activity at the highest level — even U.S. senators of his own party. How times have changed as we now watch the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) looted like prime timberland. A venerable institution that helped build the country is being gutted. This is not, as the mainstream media slothfully claims, because the Internet has rendered it obsolete, but because it represents lumber ripe for the taking while what’s left of the press takes an extended holiday from curiosity.

New York Times, Post Office Buildings With Character, and Maybe a Sale Price, Robin Pogrebin, March 7, 2013. The Santa Monica post office, with its distinctive PWA Moderne style, is one of about 200 post offices around the country, dozens of them architecturally distinctive buildings, that the Postal Service has indicated it may choose to sell in coming years because of its financial problems.

Other Political Commentary

Wall Street Journal, Romney Planning to Rejoin National Dialogue, Neil King Jr., May 30, 2013. He Will Host Event in Utah for 200 Friends and Campaign Supporters, More than half a year after his election loss, Mitt Romney is putting a tentative foot back onto the public stage. As a first step, the former Republican presidential nominee plans to welcome 200 friends and supporters to a three-day summit next week that he will host at a Utah mountain resort. He is considering writing a book and a series of opinion pieces, and has plans to campaign for 2014 candidates. But he is wary of overdoing it. "I'm not going to be bothering the airwaves with a constant series of speeches," he told The Wall Street Journal, speaking from his home in La Jolla, Calif. The Utah event, six months in the making, will be splashy, expensive and closed to outsiders and the press. The meeting will be "forward looking," as Mr. Romney describes it, but also nostalgic for a race that slipped away. 

Atlantic, It Might Finally Be Time for the 'Nuclear Option' in the Senate, Abolishing filibusters for judicial nominees could be dangerous, but Republican obstructionists have left few alternatives, Norm Ornstein, May 30 2013.  How could a move by a president simply to fill long-standing existing vacancies on federal courts be termed court packing? I also laughed because it brought back to me the long controversy over the so-called "nuclear option" to erase filibusters on judicial nominations that gripped the Senate from 2003 to 2005. Back then, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, frustrated by Democrats' filibusters and threatened filibusters of Bush Appeals Court nominees Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen (and the fear of a filibuster on a potential Supreme Court nominee), threatened to change the Senate's rules in midstream by simple majority, declaring filibusters on judicial nominees as unconstitutional.



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