Archive for September 20th, 2007

Washington, DC – Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released its third annual report on the most corrupt members of Congress entitled Beyond DeLay: The 22 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and two to watch). This encyclopedic report on corruption in the 110th Congress documents the egregious, unethical and possibly illegal activities of the most tainted members of Congress. CREW has compiled the members’ transgressions and analyzed them in light of federal laws and congressional rules.

Sixteen members have been replaced from last year’s list of 25.

CREW also has re-launched the report’s tandem website, http://www.beyonddelay.org. The site offers short summaries of each member’s transgressions as well as the full-length profiles and all accompanying exhibits.

Members of the Senate:
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK)

Members of House:
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-CA)
Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL)
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA)
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA)
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)
Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-CA)
Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV)
Rep. Timothy F. Murphy (R-PA)
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA)
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM)
Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ)
Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY)
Rep. David Scott (D-GA)
Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL)
Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-NM)

Dishonorable Mention:
Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID)
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)

“Every year CREW creates this compendium of corruption to expose and hold accountable those members of Congress who believe they are above the law,” Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW said today. “With the third edition of Beyond DeLay it has become abundantly clear that many public officials believe that the rules don’t apply to them.”

Sloan continued, “Nevertheless, Congress persists in abdicating its constitutional responsibility to police itself, opting to ignore the ethical and legal transgressions of its members. Luckily for the public, at least the Department of Justice still believes that political corruption is worth pursuing.”

Several members in the study are already under federal investigation including: Reps. Calvert, Doolittle, Feeney, Jefferson, Lewis, Miller, Mollohan, Murphy, Renzi and Young, as well as Senator Stevens.

***

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a non-profit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions.

For more information, please visit http://www.citizensforethics.org or contact Naomi Seligman Steiner at 202.408.5565/nseligman@citizensforethics.org.

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Saying older surveillance laws were “dangerously out of date,” President Bush pressed anew Wednesday for Congress to pass permanent legislation that allows intelligence agencies to carry out warrantless surveillance on all communications of a foreign terror suspect.

Legislation passed by Congress last month “has helped close a critical intelligence gap, allowing us to collect important foreign intelligence and information about terrorist plots,” Bush said after he was briefed at the National Security Agency.

“The problem is the law expires on February 1 — that’s 135 days from today. The threat from al-Qaeda is not going to expire in 135 days,” Bush said.

Bush’s comments come one day after the nation’s intelligence chief told Congress that fewer than 100 Americans have become surveillance targets because they were initially overheard communicating with foreign terror suspects.

“How many Americans’ phones have been tapped without a court order? The answer is none,” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told the House Judiciary Committee.

The law that expires in February allows intelligence agencies to carry out warrantless surveillance on all communications of a foreign terror suspect, even if a U.S.-based person is on one end of the call.

Congressional Democrats say the new law’s wording could promote warrantless spying on Americans. The law is written “so broadly and loosely that it permits the government to intercept … anyone even thought to be abroad,” Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan said at Tuesday’s hearing.

The House Intelligence Committee is expected to begin considering changes to the warrantless wiretapping law next month.

McConnell and the Bush administration also want the law expanded to include immunity from lawsuits for telecom companies that helped intelligence agencies carry out spying.

Democrats, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, want stricter rules covering surveillance of Americans.

“These restrictions would impede the flow of information that helps us protect our people,” Bush said Wednesday. “These restrictions would reopen gaps in our intelligence that we had just closed.”

At NSA, Bush received private briefings from intelligence officials and mingled with employees in the National Threat Operations Center. While cameras and reporters were in the room, the large video screens that lined the walls displayed unclassified information on computer crime and signal intelligence.

Along one wall at NSA is a sign that says, “We won’t back down. We never have. We never will.”

From USA Today

The Senate voted by a wide margin Thursday to condemn a controversial anti-war advertisement accusing Gen. David Petraeus of betraying the country. Only 24 Democrats, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, voted against the symbolic resolution.Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), both of whom also are seeking their party’s presidential nomination, joined Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in declining to take a position for or against the MoveOn ad. Since last Monday, when the “General Petraus or General Betray Us?” ad ran on a full page of the New York Times, Republicans have launched relentless attacks on MoveOn and any Democrats who refused to outright condemn the ad’s message.

“The focus of the United States Senate should be on ending this war, not on criticizing newspaper advertisements,” Obama said. “This amendment was a stunt designed only to score cheap political points while what we should be doing is focusing on the deadly serious challenge we face in Iraq. It’s precisely this kind of political game-playing that makes most Americans cynical about Washington’s ability to solve America’s problems. By not casting a vote, I registered my protest against this empty politics. I registered my views on the ad itself the day it appeared.”

In a statement released Thursday Obama continued, “All of us respect the service of General Petraeus and all of our brave men and women in uniform. The way to honor that service is to give them a mission that is responsible, not to vote on amendments like the Cornyn amendment while we continue to pursue the wrong policy in Iraq.”

President Bush entered the fray himself Thursday, calling the ad “disgusting” and an attack on the military.

Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican who favors a timetable for removing US troops from Iraq, blamed the MoveOn ad for keeping Republicans aligned with the White House in voting against measures to de-escalate the war.

“It was stupid on their part and disgraceful,” the Oregon Republican told the Associated Press.

Thursday’s Senate resolution was sponsored by conservative Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). who took time away from questioning Petraeus to condemn the ad as “reprehensible slander” during a Senate hearing last Tuesday.

Earlier Thursday Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced a resolution that would’ve condemned all attacks on troops and veterans, including those from MoveOn and conservative groups that disparaged former Sen Max Cleland and John Kerry in 2002 and 2004. That resolution fell nine short of the 60 votes needed to end debate on it. Obama voted in favor of that measure, an hour before the vote on Cornyn’s bill he skipped.

In substantive votes Thursday, Democrats failed to attract enough Republican supporters to end a filibuster on Sen. Jim Webb’s amendment to a defense spending bill that would have given US troops as much time at home as they are stationed in a warzone. Currently some troops are subject to 15-month tours of duty with only a year off in between.

Webb was among the Democrats who supported the measure condemning MoveOn.

From The Raw Story

Read our editorial about this ad here.

By Ryan Singel

International travelers concerned about being labeled a terrorist or drug runner by secret Homeland Security algorithms may want to be careful what books they read on the plane. Newly revealed records show the government is storing such information for years.

Privacy advocates obtained database records showing that the government routinely records the race of people pulled aside for extra screening as they enter the country, along with cursory answers given to U.S. border inspectors about their purpose in traveling. In one case, the records note Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore’s choice of reading material, and worry over the number of small flashlights he’d packed for the trip.

The breadth of the information obtained by the Gilmore-funded Identity Project (using a Privacy Act request) shows the government’s screening program at the border is actually a “surveillance dragnet,” according to the group’s spokesman Bill Scannell.

“There is so much sensitive information in the documents that it is clear that Homeland Security is not playing straight with the American people,” Scannell said.

The documents show a tiny slice of the massive airline-record collection stored by the government, as well as the screening records mined for the controversial Department of Homeland Security passenger-rating system that assigns terrorist scores to travelers entering and leaving the country, including U.S. citizens.

The so-called Automated Targeting System scrutinizes every airline passenger entering or leaving the country using classified rules that tell agents which passengers to give extra screening to and which to deny entry or exit from the country.

The system relies on data ranging from the government’s 700,000-name terrorism watchlist to data included in airline-travel database entries, known as Passenger Name Records, which airlines are required to submit to the government.

According to government descriptions, ATS mines data from intelligence, law enforcement and regulatory databases, looking for linkages in order to identify “high-risk” targets who may not already be on terrorist watchlists.

ATS was started in the late 1990s, but was little known until the government issued a notice about the system last fall. The government has subsequently modified the proposed rules for the system, shortening the length of time data is collected and allowing individuals to request some information used by the scoring system.

The government stores the PNRs for years and typically includes destinations, phone and e-mail contact information, meal requests, special health requests, payment information and frequent-flier numbers.

The Identity Project filed Privacy Act requests for five individuals to see the data stored on them by the government.

The requests revealed that the PNRs also included information on one requester’s race, the phone numbers of overseas family members given to the airlines as emergency contact information, and a record of a purely European flight that had been booked overseas separately from an international itinerary, according to snippets of the documents shown to Wired News.

The request also revealed the screening system includes inspection notes from earlier border inspections.

One report about Gilmore notes: “PAX (passenger) has many small flashlights with pot leaves on them. He had a book entitled ‘Drugs and Your Rights.'” Gilmore is an advocate for marijuana legalization.

Another inspection entry noted that Gilmore had “attended computer conference in Berlin and then traveled around Europe and Asia to visit friends. 100% baggage exam negative…. PAX is self employed ‘Entrepreneur’ in computer software business.”

“They are noting people’s race and they are writing down what people read,” Scannell said.

It doesn’t matter that Gilmore was reading a book about drugs, rather than Catcher in the Rye, according to Scannell. “A book is a book,” Scannell said. “This is just plain wrong.”

The documents have also turned Scannell against the Department of Homeland Security’s proposal for screening airline passengers inside the United States.

That project, known as Secure Flight, will take watchlist screening out of the hands of airlines, by having the airlines send PNR data to the government ahead of each flight. While earlier versions included plans to rate passenger’s threat level using data purchased from private companies, DHS now proposes only to compare data in the PNR against names on the watchlist, which largely disarmed civil libertarians’ opposition to the program.

That’s changed for Scannell now, who sees Secure Flight as just another version of ATS.

“They want people to get permission to travel,” Scannell said. “They already instituted it for leaving and entering the country and now they want to do it to visit your Aunt Patty in Cleveland.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.

From Wired.com