Ruth Marcus Sees President Obama as Obstacle to Oversight and Transparency

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus sees the Obama administration as an obstacle rather than an enabler of “effective oversight and reasonable transparency; declining to publicly reveal operational details is understandable; refusing to reveal even its legal analysis of surveillance and other anti-terrorist activities is not.” [1] She also debunks the claim that Congress provides an effective check on abuses premised on national security interests: she points out that lawmakers must question intelligence officials without the benefit of expert staff; also, lawmakers, once briefed, are “captives of their classified knowledge: They cannot reveal what they have been told.”

Marcus also sees overreach in the order to Verizon, demanding “all call detail records” of all Americans. She notes that Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes intelligence officials to seek court orders when there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation.”

One of the prime arguments advanced by President Barack Obama for carrying out a massive surveillance program on U.S. citizens is that “If you see what I see” in regard to threats to American life, everyone will  understand why these measures to ensure the safety of all Americans were taken. Ever since the start of the Cold War, we U.S. citizens have been indoctrinated into the belief that the world is a very dangerous place. This indoctrination cannot be separated from the desire to justify a very high level of military expenditures and the building of a vast intelligence-gathering and surveillance empire.

Obama supporters contend that we are fortunate to have in office a president who uses his vast powers to conduct anti-terrorist operations moderately and judiciously, as a future president might use them much more aggressively; however, when you consider that Obama has greatly increased the number and the targeting of drone attacks; has become the first president to draw up “kill lists” of U.S. citizens; deployed U.S. Special Forces in 70 to 90 countries — according to the Special Forces chief — and set in place a surveillance program affecting all Americans, it seems very unlikely that a future president will engage in more extreme actions.

Some self-described or officially designated intelligence experts contend that Obama’s drone strikes and Special Forces military actions overseas are actually recruiting terrorists. Instructive in this regard is the statement scrawled on the inside of a boat in which the younger of two brothers implicated in the Boston Marathon bombings was hiding, revealing that he was extracting revenge for the carnege the U.S. was exercising on Muslims worldwide. This statement is an indication that Obama’s foreign policy may be fostering the very menace he claims he is working to reduce.

Ruth Marcus notes the transformation in President Barack Obama when she refers to his press secretary saying that Obama “certainy believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct in the answers that his given.” Press secretary Jay Carney was referring to the answer of “no” that intelligence director James Clapper gave to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), when Wyden asked him if there was in existence a surveillance program affecting millions of Americans. Marcus concludes that it is a transition from “most transparent (Obama) to least untruthful Clapper). Quite a fall.” [2]


A brief comment on the George Zimmerman verdict: One of the jurors in the George Zimmerrman trial — with her identity concealed — was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. The crucial passage in the interview came when Cooper asked her if the jurors ignored all that happened prior to the fight that ensued, culminating in the death of Treyvon Martin. The juror answered that the jurors did. She said they based their decision on George Zimmerman’s claims that his life was in danger when Treyvon got the better of him. Her claim was that the jurors believed the law compelled them to find Zimmerman not guilty. Neither Cooper nor the juror cited the Stand Your Ground law as the basis for the verdict but that must have been the case.

Malice must be proven in regard to a Second Degree murder conviction in Florida but malice does not apply to a manslaughter charge. Based on discussions of the manslaughter charge by trial commentators, state of mind does not seem to be a factor in manslaughter charges.

The interviewed juror said that on the initial vote, one juror was in favor of a Second Degree murder conviction; two were in favor of a manslaughter conviction and three were in favor of a not guilty verdict. After hearing all the evidence, half the six-person jury was in faovr of convicting George Zimmerman but they lost out to an assumption of Zimmerman’s state of mind.

What the various Stand Your Ground laws around the country set up is the situation in which an aggressor attacks a victim but if the intended victim gets an advantage in an ensuing struggle, the aggressor can kill lthe intended victim and claim self-defense.


[1] Ruth Marcus, “James Clapper’s ‘least truthful’ answer,” The Washington Post, June 13, 2013.

[2] Ibid.





Peeling Back the Layers of the U.S Surveillance Program

A prior blog of mine focused on the data-mining at Verizon, another program gathering information from Internet and other data sources and the “Boundless Informant” program that forms a “global heat map” of those countries which are providing the billions upon billions of pieces of information deemed to be an important part of carrying out  counterterrorism activities. We are learning, however, that there are additional components and capabilities in the overall surveillance program.

The McClatchy news service has exposed “a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish lthose who fail to report their suspicions.” McClatchy says the Insider Threat Program “is sweeping in its reach.” It has re ceived scant public notice “even lthough it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments.” The program “emphasizes leaks of classified material but catchall definitions of ‘insider threat’ give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.” 


Diane Dimond, who has a regular column in the Saturday Albuquerque Journal, de-bunks the notion that the government is not looking at content in the information it is scooping up. Dimond writes in the July 13, 2013 issue that after the Boston Marathon bombing, Tim Clement, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, appeared on CNN and openly spoke of the capability of U.S. intelligence agencies to “Go back and find out what was said.” During phone calls between bomber Tanerian Tsamaw and his wife, the government knows what they were saying. Dimond conludes that the government is capturing content of phone calls, not just numbers dialed. 

In the same column, Dimond refers to a recent report of a long-time surveillance system called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program, which.photographs the outside of every piece of paper mail processed in the United States. That’s about 160 billion pieces every year! Dimond concludes: “And can you imagine the total manpower hours expended on these surveillance programs? Can you fathom how much we are paying to gather up what turns out to be mostly superfluous information.”

As onion layers seem to go on forever, we don’t know how many more layers of surveillance programs and activiites are still a secret to the public.