Disinformation and Propaganda Amendment to Defense Authorization

December 26, 2016

This is not directly related to our core FISA issue of warrantless wiretapping, but it is clearly of importance to those of us who appreciate truth in media and journalistic standards that include independence and honesty, who prefer our editorial opinions on the Op-Ed page (or Web0site equivalent), not disguised as “hard news”, which we expect to be fact-based reporting.

It was called the “Ministry of Truth” by George Orwell, and some suggest that it is coming to the U.S.A. State Department,  authorized by an amendment to a defense authorization bill that allows the federal government to spread propaganda not just internationally, as it has long done, but also domestically‚ to U.S.A. citizens, using materials created for foreign audiences in support of government policies that might be unpopular here at home—wars, for instance.

The bipartisan bill, which was introduced by Senators Portman and Murphy in March, will . . . .establish an interagency center housed at the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government. To support these efforts, the bill also creates a grant program for NGOs, think tanks, civil society and other experts outside government who are engaged in counter-propaganda related work. (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-12-24/obama-signs-countering-disinformation-and-propaganda-act-law)

Here is an article with more information: http://vigilantcitizen.com/latestnews/new-bill-legalizes-government-propaganda-and-disinformation-on-american-citizens/

and, from that article, this:

The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

Critics of the bill say there are ways to keep America safe without turning the massive information operations apparatus within the federal government against American citizens.

This amendment would

essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

Interestingly, the Smith-Mundt Act was passed shortly after the end of World War II—presumably to rein in the war-propaganda machine?

It seems to me that something so substantial deserved more attention than it was given, both when passed by the Senate back in March and at its passage by the House of Representatives on the Friday before Christmas and quick signature by the president that same day.  It is disturbing that this was quietly done, as described in that same article:

“I just don’t want to see something this significant – whatever the pros and cons – go through without anyone noticing,” says one source on the Hill, who is disturbed by the law. According to this source, the law would allow “U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”

The new law would give sweeping powers to the government to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

In a society that relies so completely on checks and balances, on oversight, it is troubling in the extreme to see current limitations removed—particularly just before the inauguration of a president-elect noted for misrepresentations and extremist rhetoric in his use of media.

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Musing

June 30, 2013

Here we are, about midway between our 5th birthday, June 26, and Independence Day, July 4. This post is overdue, as I have been reflecting on the anniversary just passed despite not getting over here to comment. But what to say?  I’m not feeling very optimistic.  There is not much to applaud in the fact that the president (once the candidate for whom we who cofounded this blog had so much hope) is “not going to scramble jets” to capture a patriot who released data to the United States public, not to an enemy; to know that Bradley Manning’s trial is going on right now, but that details are available only through a very few online sources* (Reader Supported News, FireDogLake, etc.), to see The New York Times call the woman whose coverage they are quoting not a journalist, but an activist, is distressing—no cause for celebration.

Then one hears an interview with the husband of Lynne Stewart, the New York lawyer and activist now in a Texas prison, approved by the Texas warden for compassionate release.  One learns that the paperwork for her release is now held up in Washington, and when her team asks for a more-legible copy on which to make their case, they are brushed off with “go through FoIA [Freedom of Information Act]”.  And one—if lucky—finds in the press (or in a blog’s responsive comment) a mention of James Clapper, who admittedly lied to Congress, on the record—where is Attorney General Eric Holder’s commitment to prosecution?

Finally, one reads speculation on how the press takes its cues from the federal government in their coverage of those who leak information (http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/276-74/18164-focus-ten-ways-the-press-will-treat-cartwright-different-from-snowden, which includes the following: “High government officials in Washington routinely leak classified information, as part of turf battles inside the government. . . . That such leaks are so routine, and are part of Washington’s way of doing business, is what makes the harsh espionage charges against people like Edward Snowden so hypocritical. He who is without leaks should cast the first stone.).”

So am I hopeful this year?  No, not very.  However, there are 2 recent posts here that are encouraging—a new group called Restore the 4th has taken up the mantle, with a couple of our own involved.  Let’s make a noise this 4th of July!  Let’s start some meaningful conversations—at the parades, at the picnics, before the fireworks go off, let’s talk about what the holiday really means, beyond  a day off from work midweek and sales at the malls.  Despite understandable criticisms of slavery and limited voter enfranchisement in the 1700s, I prefer to focus on the radical aspects of the events surrounding 4 July 1776, when this country began in revolution against the tyranny of taxation without representation, the “divine right” of kings, and for the “unalienable rights [of] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  It is time—well past time!—for our nation to remember and demand that our current government honor its founding principles.

*in contrast to the Watergate hearings in 1974, to which I sat glued every afternoon upon returning home from my college classes


End of an era at Get FISA Right

December 29, 2012
whatswrongbaby

Kevin Drum, observing the sad Senate vote to reauthorize the FISA Amendment Act:

The worst part of all this is that nobody cares. None of our three major daily newspapers made this front-page news. Virtually none of the blogs I read highlighted it. Even my Twitter feed only mentioned it sporadically.

And of course, that includes me. I didn’t write about it either. Glenn thinks that liberals have largely given up criticizing this stuff because we now have a Democratic president in the White House rather than George W. Bush, and I suppose that’s part of it. But a bigger part, I think, is simply that it’s all become so institutionalized. Back in 2004 and 2006, we were outraged because this was all so new. Today, after fighting and losing, it’s just part of our brave new world, along with 3-ounce bottles on airplanes, unreviewable no-fly lists, and cops who demand to know what you’re up to if you start taking pictures in public places.

As a country, we’re now divided into two parts: those who aggressively support things like warrantless wiretapping because they’re consumed with fear, and those who don’t but have given up trying to fight about it. There’s hardly anyone left still willing to tilt at this particular windmill. It’s sad as hell.

The complete silence here bears Drum out in much of what he writes.  That silence included me, it included Jon Pincus, Harry Waisbren, and the many others who were once consumed with the effort to make opposition to Bush-era surveillance state carry over to the Obama administration.  Last week, Marcy Wheeler reminded readers that Obama said this, once upon a time:

Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I’ve chosen to support the current compromise. I do so with the firm intention — once I’m sworn in as President — to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future. [snip]

I do promise to listen to your concerns, take them seriously, and seek to earn your ongoing support to change the country. That is why we have built the largest grassroots campaign in the history of presidential politics, and that is the kind of White House that I intend to run as President of the United States — a White House that takes the Constitution seriously,conducts the peoples’ business out in the open, welcomes and listens to dissenting views, and asks you to play your part in shaping our country’s destiny.

Glenn Greenwald, referencing Wheeler’s post, adds, “Needless to say, none of that ever happened. Now, the warrantless eavesdropping bill that Obama insisted was plagued by numerous imperfections is one that he is demanding be renewed without a single change.

We need to face it: Obama was full of shit then, he’s full of shit now, and he’s been full of shit all along.

But additionally mortifying, for us, is that this site and its advocates have played a role in letting him get away with that.  How?  By functioning as an ineffective diversion — a playground where the misguided could pretend we were effective opponents of the FISA Amendment Act and Patriot Act when we weren’t.   The approach taken — an allegedly “proud group of Obama supporters” asking him “to get FISA right” — has been conclusively shown to be without merit.  It made a little sense in 2008; it makes no sense whatsoever now: we can’t possibly be a proud group after letting this debate go unremarked and unopposed; many of us are no longer Obama supporters; and there is no chance that Obama will get FISA right.  Our current charade must end, one way or the other.

Accordingly, I’m unilaterally pulling down the Get FISA Right logo and replacing it with “What’s Wrong Baby” for the time being.  (The logo and slogan are a reference to the John Carpenter movie “They Live”; yes, it’s over the top, but at least it recognizes who our political foes include.  Think of it as a declaration of independence.)

It might well be a better, simpler alternative to delete this site altogether — “Strike another match, go start anew.” That won’t bother me too much, but we did some worthwhile things along the line here that maybe deserve to be preserved — fundraising for Feingold, the ads at the 2008 conventions and later, attempts to inform ourselves and others about the politics and policy of surveillance and civil liberties.

One way or another, we have to step back and realize that to “Get FISA Right,” we will first need to get “Get FISA Right” right. That starts with ditching a painfully embarrassing logo,  revising our “About” statement, consigning the old one to the archives,  and going from there.

The floor is yours.

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(Originally posted as “This site sucks; that’s over, one way or the other”)
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Old header:
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Get FISA Right Offline: Write a Letter to the Editor

October 27, 2009

From its inception, Get FISA Right has been dedicated to building an online movement from within the context of the Obama for President campaign. But the passage of time and the turn of events have led to some subtle and not-so-subtle changes in Get FISA Right’s focus.

During 2008, Get FISA Right reacted with chagrin to Senator Barack Obama’s support for the FISA Amendments Act and pressured him to consider FISA reform as his inauguration approached; during 2009, we’ve watched as President Barack Obama has moved to definitively support and reinforce elements of George W. Bush’s surveillance agenda. The agenda of Get FISA Right has become more distant from the agenda of President Obama as the President’s agenda moves ever farther from the defense of American constitutional protections.

During 2008, Get FISA Right worked from within the Democratic Party base of supporters to rally support for a NO vote against the FISA Amendments Act; during 2009, we’ve watched as Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee joined Republicans to form a supermajority against civil liberty and for the reauthorization of Patriot Act. The reach of Get FISA Right has become less partisan, drawing from the expertise of libertarians such as Julian Sanchez of the CATO Institute and reaching toward Libertarian Party audiences in an effort to build more bridges.

During 2008, Get FISA Right was able to tap into the excitement of the presidential race and existing media coverage stemming from Senator Christopher Dodd’s filibuster threats to build a large online activist presence. This year, there are no presidential elections and only one one congressional elections. To my knowledge, newspapers’ coverage of the introduction of surveillance reform bills H.R. 3845 and H.R. 3846 has been limited to one Associated Press article and one Roll Call article. There’s no similar buzz this year over surveillance legislation, even though constitutional and practical problems with government surveillance remain unresolved by the Obama administration. And so as Get FISA Right continues its important work of building awareness online, there is a need to expand awareness of surveillance policy developments offline.

One way to build awareness of Patriot Act reauthorization, and of the need for Patriot Act and FISA reform, is to use the newspapers’ voice in spite of most newspapers silence. In addition to your online twitter, facebook and blogging work, please consider writing a letter to the editor today. Your words may reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of readers, and if published will almost certainly gain the attention of your local paper’s editorial staff. Get FISA Right has added a wiki page with appropriate links to background information and the letter-writing engine at my.barackobama.com. Add your submitted letters to the wiki page as an inspiration for others who would like to write their own original letters but may not know where to begin.