Friday, September 30, 2016

Baltimore Activist Alert - September 30 - October 15, 2016

39] Film COMMAND AND CONTROL – Sept. 30 to Oct. 6
40] Project Homeless Connect – Sept. 30
41] Peace vigil at White House – Sept. 30
42] WIB peace vigils – Sept. 30
43] American Promise Citizen Leadership Conference – Sept. 30 – Oct. 2
44 Black Lives Matter vigil – Sept. 30
45] Gallery Al-Quds presents Night Raid -- Sept. 30
46] Ballroom Dancing – Sept. 30
47] 6th Annual DC Peace Conference -- Oct. 1
48] West Chester peace vigil – Oct. 1
49] Help out Green Party candidates – Oct. 1 - 2
50] Housing Over Policing Rally – Oct. 1
51] Know Your Rights and Responsibilities -- Oct. 1
52] See the film FAIR GAMEOct. 1
53] Call for the pardon of Ed Snowden – Oct. 8
54] Protest Fleet Week – Oct. 12 & 15
55] Room for rent
56] Sign up with Washington Peace Center
57] Donate books, videos, DVDs and records
58] Do you need any book shelves?
59] Join the Global Zero campaign
60] Join the Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil
39] – From Fri., Sept. 30 through Thurs., Oct. 6 see a screening of "Command and Control” at the Landmark Theatres Ritz on the Bourse, 400 Ranstead St., Philadelphia. Go to A chilling nightmare plays out at a Titan II missile complex in Arkansas in September, 1980. A worker accidentally drops a socket, puncturing the fuel tank of an intercontinental ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead in our arsenal, an incident which ignites a series of feverish efforts to avoid a deadly disaster. Directed by Robert Kenner (FOOD, INC.) and based on the critically acclaimed book by Eric Schlosser (FAST FOOD NATION), COMMAND AND CONTROL is a minute-by-minute account of this long-hidden story. Putting a camera where there was no camera that night, Kenner brings this nonfiction thriller to life with stunning original footage shot in a decommissioned Titan II missile silo. Eyewitness accounts — from the man who dropped the socket, to the man who designed the warhead, to the Secretary of Defense— chronicle nine hours of terror that prevented an explosion 600 times more powerful than Hiroshima. Go to

40] – On Fri., Sept. 30 from 9 AM to 8 PM get with the Project Homeless Connect hosted by United Way of Central Maryland.  It will happen at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W Pratt St., Baltimore 21201.  One of the most difficult parts of being homeless is gaining access to the essential resources and services you need to get back on your feet — such as medical and dental screenings, haircuts, career services, legal advice, government identification, healthy food, and more. To make that easier for the homeless in central Maryland, we need U to volunteer at Project Homeless Connect.  Project Homeless Connect provides an opportunity for local homeless families and individuals to access all those services and more in one place at one time.  As a volunteer, you’ll be paired with homeless or at-risk participants and guide them throughout the event one-on-one, helping them connect with the services they need and getting to know them over the course of the day.  Volunteers must register on the United Way website:

41] – On Fri., Sept. 30 from noon to 1 PM, join the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in a vigil urging the powers that be to abolish war and torture, to disarm all weapons, to end indefinite detention, to close Guantanamo, to establish justice for all and help create the Beloved Community! This vigil will take place at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Contract Art @ or at 202-360-6416. 

42] – On Fri., Sept. 30 from noon to 1 PM, join a Women in Black peace vigil. A vigil will take place in McKeldin Square at the corner of Light and Pratt Sts., and another will take place outside Roland Park Place, 830 W. 40th St., across from the Rotunda.  Stay for as long as you can. Wear black. Dress for who knows what kind of weather. Bring your own poster or help with the "NO WAR IN MY NAME" banner.  When there are others to stand with, you don't need to carry the burden alone. Do this to be in solidarity with others....when everything around us says “Be afraid of the stranger.” Carpool and parking available at both locations. Just send an email that you need a ride [].  Peace signs will be available. 

43] – From Fri., Sept. 30 through Sun., Oct. 2 get over to the American Promise Citizen Leadership Conference. Go to Check-in begins at 2 PM on Friday, and a welcome starts at 4 PM. Then enjoy dinner and a screening of “Iron Jawed Angels” or “Go, Granny D!, a one-woman theatrical production.  The Conference continues through Saturday and Sunday. The Conference is at the Renaissance Washington D.C. Downtown Hotel (Marriott), 999 9th St. NW, WDC 20001.  Go to

44] – There is usually a silent vigil on Fridays, from 5 to 6 PM, sponsored by Homewood Friends and Stony Run Meetings, outside the Homewood Friends Meetinghouse, 3107 N. Charles St.  The next scheduled vigil is on Sept. 30. Black Lives Matter.

45] – Gallery Al-Quds presents Night Raid on Fri., Sept. 30 with an opening reception from 6 to 8 PM at 2425 Virginia Ave. NW, WDC. A collection of photographic night raid images will be exhibited through Fri., Oct. 14, providing a context for Israeli military night raids regularly performed in the village of Bil’in in the West Bank. The American Friends Service Committee initiated and produced the Night Raid collaboration with the “Israeli Detention: No Way to Treat a Child Campaign.” Photojournalist Richard Cahan curated the exhibition.  Raed Jarrar, of the DC-based Office of Public Policy and Advocacy, American Friends Service Committee, will speak at the reception. RSVP

46] – There is an opportunity to participate in ballroom dancing, usually every Friday of the month, in the JHU ROTC Bldg. at  8 PM.  Turn south on San Martin Dr. from the intersection of Univ. Parkway and 39th St.  Drive on campus by taking the third left turn. The next dance will be Sept. 30. Call Dave Greene at 410-599-3725.

47] – The 6th Annual DC Peace Conference is going on at Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, 1005 3rd St. NE, WDC 2002, on Sat., Oct. 1 from 10 AM to 1 PM. Hostelling International Washington, DC (HI DC) is a nonprofit organization founded on an enduring belief in the power of travel to foster a deeper understanding of people, places, and the world around. As HI DC strives to build a more tolerant world, it has organized the annual Conference for the past six years to educate participants about current social issues that hinder the advancement of human and equal rights nationally and globally. Thus it is also a celebration of HI USA Sleep for Peace Campaign, which aims to raise awareness about social challenges that marginalized communities face in the United States.

48] – Each Saturday, 11 AM – 1 PM, Chester County Peace Movement holds a peace vigil in West Chester in front of the Chester County Courthouse, High & Market Sts. Go to Email

49] – Help the Flowers for Senate Campaign on Sat., Oct. 1 starting at 11:30 AM at the Baltimore Green Party office, 100 E 23rd St., Baltimore MD 21218. Then volunteers will go to the Fells Point Fun Festival.  On Sun., Oct. 2 volunteers will go to the Farmer’s Market under the JFX.  Contact Cristi Demnowicz at  Go to

Sign up for Canvassing Training and become a Door to Door field volunteer. Harris, Schlakman and Spilly are hitting the pavement and could use more door to door volunteers.  Visit or Election Day is coming up FAST!   Early voting starts Oct. 27 and goes through Nov. 3. See

50] – Housing Over Policing Rally is taking place at DC General Family Shelter, 1900 Massachusetts Ave. SE, WDC, on Sat., Oct. 1 from 1 to 3:30 PM.  Join Bread for the City for their rally to demand Mayor Bowser to spend taxpayer money in ways that support the lives of community members. No one should be denied access to quality housing that is affordable for them, leaving extra money in their pockets to enjoy life's pleasures. The process to decide how DC spends its money next year begins this Fall. Now is the time to make sure Mayor Bowser and the DC Council put more money into vouchers, construction and preservation of truly affordable housing. See HTTPS://WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/EVENTS/1173315399395025/.

51] –  On Sat., Oct. 1 from 2 to 4 PM, attend a community forum Know Your Rights and Responsibilities about address community/police relations at Hicks/ Anderson, 501 N. Madison St., Wilmington, DE. This is sponsored by The Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow. Email

52] –  The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemoration Committee, Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Committee of Homewood and Stony Run Meetings and Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility are continuing the FILM & SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS DVD SERIES.  The DVDs will be shown at Homewood Friends Meetinghouse, 3107 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21218, usually on the First Friday.  After the Black Lives Matter vigil, there will be a potluck dinner. At 7:15 PM, from September through December, a DVD will be shown with a discussion to follow.  There is no charge, and refreshments will be available.  The series theme is REACTING TO WARS ON CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS, PEOPLE AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

On Fri., Oct. 7 see FAIR GAME [USA, 2010] which is ripped from the headlines. Directed by Doug Liman and starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, it is based on Valerie Plame's memoir, “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House,” and Joseph C. Wilson's memoir, “The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir.”  Penn, as Wilson, travels to Niger to see if yellowcake uranium is being provided to Iraq for use in nuclear weapons. He determines that it is not.  George W. Bush, though, justifies an invasion of Iraq in a 2003 State of the Union address by alluding to the uranium's use in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, Wilson submits an op-ed piece to The New York Times, stating this is untrue. Scooter Libby then betrays Plame’s covert identity, and the couple suffer the consequences. Contact Max at 410-323-1607 or mobuszewski at

53] – Keep Space for Peace Week -- International Days of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space is happening from Sat., Oct. 1 through Sat., Oct. 8.  Go to The Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore will do its annual Keep Space for Peace Week protest at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland at 11 AM on Sat., Oct. 8.  We will be promoting a pardon for Edward Snowden.  Rides will be available. Contact Max at 410-323-1607 or mobuszewski at Verizon dot net.

54] – The Port of Baltimore will be the site of the Commissioning Ceremony for the most powerful, technologically-advanced, United States Destroyer in history – USS ZUMWALT DDG 1000 on Sat., Oct. 15, 2016 at 5 PM.  According to the propaganda, “This FIRST IN CLASS ship introduces major innovations in design: stealth profile, small crew size, wave-piercing tumblehome hull, state-of-the-art electric propulsion and the latest long-range gun and missile weaponry. The USS ZUMWALT is unlike any warship that has ever sailed the seas.”  If you can believe this, the ship’s motto is PAX PROPTER VIM – “PEACE THROUGH POWER.”  

 The commissioning is part of Fleet Week.  If you believe that we must protest the commissioning of this war ship, let me know if you are available to attend a planning meeting sometime this week. Contact me at 410-323-1607 or mobuszewski at Verizon dot net. We intend to protest both the Commissioning and Welcoming on Oct. 12 at 4 PM.  Join us.

55] – There is a furnished room for rent with private bath in a nice, quiet Lutherville neighborhood, not far from the light rail and 83, 15 minutes from Towson Town Center and various shops on York Road.  Rent, which includes cable, Wi-Fi, kitchen privileges and the use of washer and dryer, is $650 a month and the splitting of gas & electric bill. Call Lynn at 410-960-3008.

56] -- The Washington Peace Center has a progressive calendar & activist alert! Consider signing up to receive its weekly email:

57] -- If you would like to get rid of books, videos, DVDs or records, contact Max at 410-323-1607 or mobuszewski at

58] -- Can you use any book shelves? Contact Max at 410-366-1637 or mobuszewski at

59] -- Join an extraordinary global campaign for the elimination of nuclear weapons: A growing group of leaders around the world is calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons and a majority of the global public agrees.  This is an historic window of opportunity.  With momentum already building in favor of Zero, a major show of support from people around the world could tip the balance. When it comes to nuclear weapons, one is one too many.

60] – A Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil takes place every day in Lafayette Park, 1601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 24 hours a day, since June 3, 1981. Go to; call 202-682-4282.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

“One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the US around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better" - Daniel Berrigan  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

US and EU Sanctions Are Punishing Ordinary Syrians and Crippling Aid Work, UN Report Reveals

A Syrian Red Crescent truck, part of a convoy carrying humanitarian aid, is seen in Kafr Batna on the outskirts of Damascus on Feb. 23, 2016, during an operation in cooperation with the U.N. to deliver aid to thousands of besieged Syrians. (photo: Abd Doumany/Getty)
A Syrian Red Crescent truck, part of a convoy carrying humanitarian aid, is seen in Kafr Batna on the outskirts of Damascus on Feb. 23, 2016, during an operation in cooperation with the U.N. to deliver aid to thousands of besieged Syrians. (photo: Abd Doumany/Getty)

US and EU Sanctions Are Punishing Ordinary Syrians and Crippling Aid Work, UN Report Reveals

By Rania Khalek, The Intercept
28 September 16

 Internal United Nations assessments obtained by The Intercept reveal that U.S. and European sanctions are punishing ordinary Syrians and crippling aid work during the largest humanitarian emergency since World War II.

   The sanctions and war have destabilized every sector of Syria’s economy, transforming a once self-sufficient country into an aid-dependent nation. But aid is hard to come by, with sanctions blocking access to blood safety equipment, medicines, medical devices, food, fuel, water pumps, spare parts for power plants, and more.

  In a 40-page internal assessment commissioned to analyze the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, the U.N. describes the U.S. and EU measures as “some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed.” Detailing a complex system of “unpredictable and time-consuming” financial restrictions and licensing requirements, the report finds that U.S. sanctions are exceptionally harsh “regarding provision of humanitarian aid.”

   U.S. sanctions on Syrian banks have made the transfer of funds into the country nearly impossible. Even when a transaction is legal, banks are reluctant to process funds related to Syria for risk of incurring violation fees. This has given rise to an unofficial and unregulated network of money exchanges that lacks transparency, making it easier for extremist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda to divert funds undetected. The difficulty of transferring money is also preventing aid groups from paying local staff and suppliers, which has “delayed or prevented the delivery of development assistance in both government and besieged areas,” according to the report.

   Trade restrictions on Syria are even more convoluted. Items that contain 10 percent or more of U.S. content, including medical devices, are banned from export to Syria. Aid groups wishing to bypass this rule have to apply for a special license, but the licensing bureaucracy is a nightmare to navigate, often requiring expensive lawyers that cost far more than the items being exported.

  Syria was first subjected to sanctions in 1979, after the U.S. designated the Syrian government as a state sponsor of terrorism. More sanctions were added in subsequent years, though none more extreme than the restrictions imposed in 2011 in response to the Syrian government’s deadly crackdown on protesters.

   In 2013 the sanctions were eased but only in opposition areas. Around the same time, the CIA began directly shipping weapons to armed insurgents at a colossal cost of nearly $1 billion a year, effectively adding fuel to the conflict while U.S. sanctions obstructed emergency assistance to civilians caught in the crossfire.

   An internal U.N. email obtained by The Intercept also faults U.S. and EU sanctions for contributing to food shortages and deteriorations in health care. The August email from a key U.N. official warned that sanctions had contributed to a doubling in fuel prices in 18 months and a 40 percent drop in wheat production since 2010, causing the price of wheat flour to soar by 300 percent and rice by 650 percent. The email went on to cite sanctions as a “principal factor” in the erosion of Syria’s health care system. Medicine-producing factories that haven’t been completely destroyed by the fighting have been forced to close because of sanctions-related restrictions on raw materials and foreign currency, the email said.

   As one NGO worker in Damascus told The Intercept, there are cars, buses, water systems, and power stations that are in serious need of repair all across the country, but it takes months to procure spare parts and there’s no time to wait. So aid groups opt for cheap Chinese options or big suppliers that have the proper licensing, but the big suppliers can charge as much as they want. If the price is unaffordable, systems break down and more and more people die from dirty water, preventable diseases, and a reduced quality of life.

   Such conditions would be devastating for any country. In war-torn Syria, where an estimated 13 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance, the sanctions are compounding the chaos.

   In an emailed statement to The Intercept, the State Department denied that the sanctions are hurting civilians.

    “U.S. sanctions against [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], his backers, and the regime deprive these actors of resources that could be used to further the bloody campaign Assad continues to wage against his own people,” said the statement, which recycled talking points that justified sanctions against Iraq in 1990s. The U.S. continued to rationalize the Iraq sanctions even after a report was released by UNICEF in 1999 that showed a doubling in mortality rates for children under the age of 5 after sanctions were imposed in the wake of the Gulf War, and the death of 500,000 children.

  “The true responsibility for the dire humanitarian situation lies squarely with Assad, who has repeatedly denied access and attacked aid workers,” the U.S. statement on Syria continued. “He has the ability to relieve this suffering at any time, should he meet his commitment to provide full, sustained access for delivery of humanitarian assistance in areas that the U.N. has determined need it.”

   Meanwhile, in cities controlled by ISIS, the U.S. has employed some of the same tactics it condemns. For example, U.S.-backed ground forces laid siege to Manbij, a city in northern Syria not far from Aleppo that is home to tens of thousands of civilians. U.S. airstrikes pounded the city over the summer, killing up to 125 civilians in a single attack. The U.S. replicated this strategy to drive ISIS out of KobaneRamadi, and Fallujah, leaving behind flattened neighborhoods. In Fallujah, residents resorted to eating soup made from grass and 140 people reportedly died from lack of food and medicine during the siege.

   Humanitarian concerns aside, the sanctions are not achieving their objectives. Five years of devastating civil war and strict economic sanctions have plunged over 80 percent of Syrians into poverty, up from 28 percent in 2010. Ferdinand Arslanian, a scholar at the Center for Syrian Studies at the University of St. Andrews, says that reduction in living standards and aid dependency is empowering the regime.

  “Aid is now an essential part of the Syrian economy and sanctions give regime cronies in Syria the ability to monopolize access to goods. It makes everyone reliant on the government. This was the case in Iraq, with the food-for-oil system,” explained Arslanian.
“Sanctions have a terrible effect on the people more than the regime and Washington knows this from Iraq,” argues Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “But there’s pressure in Washington to do something and sanctions look like you’re doing something,” he added.

    Despite the failure of sanctions, opposition advocates are agitating for even harsher measures that would extend sanctions to anyone who does business with the Syrian government. This, of course, would translate into sanctions against Russia.

   “The opposition likes sanctions,” says Landis. “They were the people who advocated them in the beginning because they want to put any pressure they can on the regime. But it’s very clear that the regime is not going to fall, that the sanctions are not working. They’re only immiserating a population that’s already suffered terrible declines in their per capita GDP,” he added.

Read the report:

C 2015 Reader Supported News

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Help plan a protest of the USS Zumwalt/Go to the NSA for Keep Space for peace Week


The Port of Baltimore will be the site of the Commissioning Ceremony for the most powerful, technologically-advanced, United States Destroyer in history – USS ZUMWALT DDG 1000 on Sat., Oct. 15, 2016 at 5 PM.  According to the propaganda, “This FIRST IN CLASS ship introduces major innovations in design: stealth profile, small crew size, wave-piercing tumblehome hull, state-of-the-art electric propulsion and the latest long-range gun and missile weaponry. The USS ZUMWALT is unlike any warship that has ever sailed the seas.”  If you can believe this, the ship’s motto is PAX PROPTER VIM – “PEACE THROUGH POWER.”  

  If you believe that we must protest the commissioning of this war ship, let me know if you are available to attend a planning meeting sometime this week. Contact me at 410-323-1607 or mobuszewski at Verizon dot net.

  Also put on your calendar, our annual Keep Space for Peace Week protest at the National Security Agency at 11 AM on Sat., Oct. 8.  We will be promoting a pardon for Edward Snowden.  Rides will be available. Let know if you want to join us. Thanks.


October 1-8, 2016

Keep Space for Peace Week
International Week of Protest to
Stop the Militarization of Space

No Missile Defense
Stop Drones Surveillance & Killing
Stop the Endless Wars
No to NATO
End Corporate Domination of Foreign/Military Policy
Convert the Military Industrial Complex
Deal with climate change and global poverty
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Baltimore Activist Alert - September 28 - October 2, 2016

26] The Chevron Case – Sept. 28
27] Emancipated Palestinian Futures? – Sept. 28
28] Film SWEET DREAMS – Sept. 28
29] Write to aging prisoners – Sept, 28
30] Standing Rock news – Sept, 28
31] Chipotle will donate 50% to MD SPCA -- Sept. 29
32] ADC National Convention – Sept. 29 – Oct. 2
33] Help homeless animals -- Sept. 29
34] Peaceful Parenting and Peaceful Children course -- Sept. 29
35] U.S. Agenda for Nuclear Disarmament -- Sept. 29
36] Development Without Displacement art show – Sept. 29
37] Fears and immigration – Sept. 29
38] Conference on Turkey -- Sept. 30
26] --- Amazon Watch invites you to a "Green Bag" presentation: The Chevron Ecuador Judgment, updates from New York and Canada, on Wed., Sept. 28 from 12:30 to 2 PM at Amazon Watch / CIEL Conference Room, 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, #1100, (Above Cosi, Dupont Circle South), WDC 20036.  "The Chevron case" is notoriously hard to follow: in the years since Chevron promised the Ecuadorian communities suing it in Ecuador that it would "fight until hell freezes over – and then fight it out on the ice," the already complex environmental case has suffered dozens of collateral attacks by Chevron lawyers in courts around the world, plus the communities themselves have moved to enforce their historic $9.5 billion judgment against the company in Argentina, Brazil, and Canada. Aaron Marr Page is Managing Attorney at Forum Nobis PLLC, a D.C-based public interest law firm dedicated to helping individuals and communities address issues of international law, human rights, and the environment in a variety of legal, policy, and public opinion forums. Page is also an adjunct professor of international human rights and environmental law at the University Of Maryland Carey School Of Law, a blogger, and a public defender in the District of Columbia.

Recently, the Second Circuit affirmed a deeply problematic federal district court decision from 2014 that, on the one hand, claimed to find "fraud" and "racketeering" by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs and their representatives, yet on the other hand expressly declined to enjoin enforcement proceedings in other countries. Around the same time, hearings began in just such an enforcement proceeding in Canada, where the Canadian Supreme Court, in an earlier ruling on a preliminary issue, has already said that hockey-loving Canada is a particularly appropriate venue for enforcement and putting an end to Chevron's "fight on the ice."

The vitriolic tone and salacious "facts" in the New York court decisions have raised questions in some minds about whether enforcement of the judgment is really possible in Canada, or anywhere. Aaron Marr Page, a long-time lawyer and public advocate for the Ecuadorians, will briefly summarize where the "facts" found by the New York courts came from, and why they cannot and likely will not be accepted without scrutiny by Canadian courts. Although the situation remains fluid, Page will briefly discuss what the Chevron case thus far might tell us about modern corporate accountability litigation and the new corporate playbook for resisting serious environmental and human rights claims.

27] – “Emancipated Palestinian Futures? Hard Lessons from the South African Dream Deferred” with Dr. Irene Calis is happening at The Palestine Center, 2425 Virginia Ave. NW, WDC, on Wed., Sept. 28 from 12:30 to 2 PM.  A light snack is served at 12:30 PM.  Dr. Calis will discuss how the frequent comparisons of Israel with Apartheid South Africa may obscure more fundamental questions Palestinians should be asking. From her recent base in today’s South Africa, where “whiteness” still lives on the back of “blackness,” she argues that the post-apartheid moment should alert Palestinians to take stock and reframe both the form of our campaigns and the terms of any proposed resolution. This requires asking qualitatively different kinds of questions, ones which concern not the nature of the apartheid state, but instead, the nature of our preferred future.  She is a political anthropologist whose research focuses on the politics of human suffering towards meaningful transformation in people’s everyday lives.  Her long-term fieldwork has involved living and working with Palestinian farming communities throughout the West Bank.  She holds a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science and has taught in diverse university settings across the globe including Rhodes University, South Africa, the University of Cambridge, UK, and the University of Hawai`i in Oceania.  RSVP at

28] – On Wed., Sept. 28 at 6:30 PM, see the film SWEET DREAMS at  Queen Theater, 500 North Market St., Wilmington, DE.  The film celebrates a remarkable group of Rwandan women as they emerge from the devastation of the genocide to create a new future for themselves. It features a group of women, 60 strong, which form the foundation of a drumming group and an entrepreneurial start-up.

29] -- Show some Solidarity with Aging Prisoners by coming to The Potter's House, 1658 Columbia Rd. NW, WDC 20009, on Wed., Sept. 28 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.  Join DC Stampede and Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) to write letters to elders who are incarcerated. RAPP will share a bit about their work to get aging prisoners back to their families and communities. RAPP will provide all the materials and a quick "how to" for writing to people in prison. It'll be a good chance to meet and hang out with other folks who are fighting for change. Go to or or or

30] – Standing Rock: Front Line Experiences & Visual Presentation takes place at 1525 Newton St. NW, WDC, on Wed., Sept. 28 from 7 to 9 PM. This evening will be a time to hear personal experiences of the Resistance and Prayer at Standing Rock by Teko Alejo and Gray Hawk. It will include a photo exhibition by Teko Alejo. Tekos' photos have been instrumental in expanding the international attention towards the efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Go to
31] --- All Chipotle Restaurants in Maryland will Donate 50% to MD SPCA on Thurs., Sept. 29! Make a food purchase at ANY Chipotle Restaurant in Maryland.
32] – The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee 36th Annual National Convention is happening at Washington Marriott Wardman Park, 2660 Woodley Road NW, WDC, from Thurs., Sept. 29 (all day) to Sun., Oct. 2 (all day).  They look forward to coming together as a community to discuss urgent issues affecting Arab Americans across the country. In anticipation of the General Election in November, the ADC will meet with a variety of policymakers, analysts and experts to discuss the role of Arab Americans in deciding the next President of the United States and anticipating the repercussions of major policy decisions announced by the candidates. Visit

33] -- Join Tom Geddes and MD SPCA Urbanites in helping homeless pets on Wed., Sept. 28 from 6 to 8 PM at The BoatHouse in Canton, 2809 Boston St, Baltimore, MD 21224. The BoatHouse in Canton is the place to be, to meet one of Baltimore’s most successful young professionals, Tom Geddes, CEO of Plank Industries and right-hand man to Under Armour’s Kevin Plank! Tickets are $20 and are available at;jsessionid=00000000.app362b?view=Tickets&id=100282&NONCE_TOKEN=254D9350FEE691BCA80A983BFEA1DFB2.

34] -- A Peaceful Parenting and Peaceful Children course is offered on Thurs,, Sept. 29 & Thurs. Oct. 6, from 6 to 7:30 PM at the Perry Community Center (childcare provided), 128 M St. NW, 2nd floor, WDC 20001.  Register at      

35] -- On Thurs., Sept. 29 from 3:30 to 5 PM, Lewis Dunn, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, will address "Redefining the U.S. Agenda for Nuclear Disarmament" at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW, WDC 20036. RSVP at

36] --- Check out an art show called Development Without Displacement for a special closing event with a night of stories, music, performance and discussion on Thurs., Sept. 29 at the Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park, MD 21225, starting at 6 PM. RSVP at  The show is about the work done every day to build leadership in the face of the overlapping crises in housing, environment, and jobs. The idea is to realize Fair Development in our City. Park in the rear of the arts center to enter the gallery and theater.  Stay in touch with United Workers at

37] – Hear a talk “FEARS: IMMIGRATION AND THE POLITICS OF DIVIDE AND CONQUER IN HAZLETON, PENNSYLVANIA on Thurs.., Sept. 29 at 7:30 PM at Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, 30 W. North Ave., Baltimore 21201.
Writing about immigrant bashing in his hometown, Jamie Longazel brings into sharp focus the anti-Latino racism at the heart of national politics today. The Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA), passed in the small Rustbelt city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania in 2006, was a local ordinance that laid out penalties for renting to or hiring undocumented immigrants and declared English the city's official language. The notorious IIRA gained national prominence and kicked off a parade of local and state-level legislative initiatives designed to crack down on undocumented immigrants.  

In his cogent and timely book, “Undocumented Fears,” Longazel uses the debate around Hazleton's controversial ordinance as a case study that reveals the mechanics of contemporary divide and conquer politics. He shows how neoliberal ideology, misconceptions about Latina/o immigrants, and nostalgic imagery of "Small Town, America" led to a racialized account of an undocumented immigrant "invasion," masking the real story of a city beset by large-scale loss of manufacturing jobs. Offering an up-close look at how the local debate unfolded in the city that set off this broader trend, the book makes an important connection between immigration politics and the perpetuation of racial and economic inequality.  Call 443-602-7585.  Go to  

38] --- The Middle East Institute is holding its 7th Annual Conference on Turkey at the Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, WDC 20007, on Fri., Sept. 30 at 10 AM.  The Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute is pleased to assemble three expert panels to discuss the impact of the recent coup attempt on Turkey's internal political-military dynamics as well as the country's relations with its Western allies and regional partners.  Register now to attend this important conference at

To be continued.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]  Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Over Eight Years, President Barack Obama Has Created the Most Intrusive Surveillance Apparatus in the World. To What End?

Demonstrators wearing cardboard surveillance camera hats carry a sign depicting U.S. President Barack Obama at the 'Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance' march in Washington, October 26, 2013. (photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Demonstrators wearing cardboard surveillance camera hats carry a sign depicting U.S. President Barack Obama at the 'Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance' march in Washington, October 26, 2013. (photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Over Eight Years, President Barack Obama Has Created the Most Intrusive Surveillance Apparatus in the World. To What End?

By James Bamford, Foreign Policy
25 September 16

Over eight years, President Barack Obama has created the most intrusive surveillance apparatus in the world. To what end?

 This summer, at 1:51 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, an unearthly roar shattered the afternoon quiet along the Florida coast. On Cape Canaveral, liquid fuel surged through the thick aluminum veins of a Delta IV Heavy rocket nearly as tall as the U.S. Capitol. Two million pounds of thrust in three symmetrical boosters fired the engines, sending the craft hurtling over the Atlantic Ocean into the heavens. Eighty seconds after takeoff, it hit Mach 1, the speed of sound.

  The Delta IV Heavy, introduced in 2004, is America’s most powerful rocket, and this was only the ninth time it had launched. Even more exclusive, however, was its top-secret cargo: Inside its nearly seven-story-high nose cone was an Advanced Orion, the world’s largest satellite. About eight hours after launch, when the most advanced spy craft ever built went into geosynchronous orbit, it unfurled its gigantic mesh antenna, larger than a football field, and began eavesdropping on the Earth below.

   The mission’s patch, dubbed “epic/terrifying” by the Verge, depicted a masked, armored knight standing defensively before an American flag. A sword strapped to his back bore a cross-guard resembling a set of claws. According to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the intelligence agency responsible for the satellite, the image delivered “a message of tenacious, fierce focus … representing extreme reach with global coverage.”

   In a sense, this was a fitting tribute to President Barack Obama as his administration entered its last six months in the White House. Over his two terms, Obama has created the most powerful surveillance state the world has ever seen. Although other leaders may have created more oppressive spying regimes, none has come close to constructing one of equivalent size, breadth, cost, and intrusiveness. From 22,300 miles in space, where seven Advanced Orion crafts now orbit; to a 1-million-square-foot building in the Utah desert that stores data intercepted from personal phones, emails, and social media accounts; to taps along the millions of miles of undersea cables that encircle the Earth like yarn, U.S. surveillance has expanded exponentially since Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009.

   The effort to wire the world — or to achieve “extreme reach,” in the NRO’s parlance — has cost American taxpayers more than $100 billion. Obama has justified the gargantuan expense by arguing that “there are some trade-offs involved” in keeping the country safe. “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said in June 2013, shortly after Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), revealed widespread government spying on Americans’ phone calls.

   Since Snowden’s leaks, pundits and experts (myself included) have debated the legality and ethics of the U.S. surveillance apparatus. Yet has the president’s blueprint for spying succeeded on its own terms? An examination of the unprecedented architecture reveals that the Obama administration may only have drowned itself in data. What’s more, in trying to right the ship, America’s intelligence culture has grown frenzied. Agencies are ever seeking to get bigger, move faster, and pry deeper to keep pace with the enormous quantity of information being generated the world over and with the new tactics and technologies intended to shield it from spies.

    This race is a defining feature of Obama’s legacy — and one that threatens to become never-ending, even after he’s left the White House.

    The foundations of Obama’s shadow state date back to the immediate post-9/11 period. Six weeks after the attacks, the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded the government’s surveillance powers, was rushed through Congress and signed by President George W. Bush. A few months later, the Bush administration created the Information Awareness Office, part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). That led to the development of the Total Information Awareness program, designed to vacuum up vast amounts of private electronic data — banking transactions, travel documents, medical files, and more — from citizens. After the media exposed and criticized the program, which didn’t use warrants, Congress shut it down in late 2003. Much of the operation, though, was simply transferred to the NSA.

      In 2005, the New York Times revealed that Bush had authorized the NSA to monitor the international electronic communications “of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in the United States.” Code-named Stellar Wind, the program intercepted telephone conversations, emails, and metadata from taps inside AT&T facilities and from satellites. Each day, millions of communications were scanned for addresses and keywords associated with al Qaeda. Any leads were sent to the FBI. (A secret internal analysis conducted by the bureau in 2006 indicated that no information from Stellar Wind had proved useful.)

     The same week the Times investigation was published, Obama, then a senator, gave a speech defending civil liberties and asking the Senate to hold off on voting to reauthorize the Patriot Act. “If someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document … this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law,” the former constitutional law professor declared. “This is just plain wrong.”
Obama rode a wave of negative public opinion on mass surveillance. In January 2006, a Zogby Analytics poll showed that, by a margin of 52 to 43 percent, Americans wanted Congress to consider impeaching Bush if he wiretapped citizens without a judge’s approval. Obama then carried the opposition narrative into his White House bid. In late 2007, he publicly promised, “No more secrecy. That’s a commitment that I make to you as president…. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens.” He even vowed to support a filibuster of any bill that gave retroactive immunity to companies providing assistance to government spies. (PRISM, a secretive program to gather data from major internet companies that was later revealed in Snowden’s leaks, was launched in 2007.)

   Yet as his campaign progressed, Obama’s stance hardened. Overseas, scores of people were being killed in Iraq by suicide bombings; at home, opponents were hammering Obama for being weak on terrorism. Amid this shifting political climate, he brought in John Brennan, a former CIA deputy director, as his top intelligence advisor. During the Bush years, Brennan had supported the very policies Obama campaigned against. Within months, his influence on the candidate was evident. In July 2008, Obama reversed his earlier promises, announcing support for a sweeping surveillance law that largely legalized the NSA’s warrantless eavesdropping program and granted immunity to telecom companies that aided in spying.

    Many of Obama’s supporters were horrified. “I am disgusted,” one wrote on the candidate’s website. “Obama will NOT receive my vote in November.” But the Democratic nominee justified his switch by pointing to violent threats in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. “In a dangerous world,” he wrote on a campaign blog, “government must have the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people.” From a pragmatic perspective, Obama was also heading into the last push for the presidency and needed to appeal to the broader electorate, which viewed terrorism as a bigger threat than his liberal base did.

     After being elected, Obama staffed up with intelligence officials who supported mass surveillance. Brennan became his chief counterterrorism advisor (and, a few years later, director of the CIA). Maureen Baginski, the NSA’s former director of signals intelligence, a job that had placed her in charge of wiretapping, joined the transition team that helped establish policy for the NSA and other spy agencies.

    Most notable, though, was Obama’s decision to keep the NSA’s chief in place. Keith Alexander, a three-star general who’d led the agency since 2005, was a force to be reckoned with. “We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander — with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets,” a former senior CIA official told me. “We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.” Alexander’s preferred spying method was blunt. According to a document leaked by Snowden, while visiting Menwith Hill station, the NSA’s giant listening post in England, in June 2008, Alexander asked, “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?” He applied this approach in Iraq, pulling intelligence from phone interceptions, planes, drones, satellites, and other sensors into a powerful computer analysis system known as the Real Time Regional Gateway. He also ran the NSA’s massive metadata surveillance program, which involved secretly keeping track of every phone in the United States: what numbers were called, from where, and exactly when — billions of communications each year.

   One of the few people with the security clearance to witness Alexander in action was Judge Reggie Walton of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). He didn’t like what he saw, particularly that the NSA did not have “reasonable and articulable suspicion” to justify monitoring some 90 percent of targets in its metadata program. In a January 2009 opinion, Walton wrote that he was “exceptionally concerned” that the agency was operating in “flagrant violation” of the FISC’s orders regarding privacy. Two months later, he accused the NSA of making “material misrepresentations” to the court, which in less polite language is known as lying. He pointed the finger at Alexander, writing that the general’s explanation for why his agency had been eavesdropping illegally on tens of thousands of Americans — essentially, that he thought privacy restrictions applied only to certain archived data — “strains credulity.” Walton concluded that oversight of metadata gathering “has never functioned effectively.”

   Yet Obama didn’t dismiss Alexander. In fact, the following year, the general was awarded a fourth star and tapped to lead the newly minted, top-secret U.S. Cyber Command. And rather than limit the NSA chief’s collect-it-all regime, the president authorized its expansion.

    For the Obama administration, the next frontier in spying was being able to eavesdrop on every single person in a country by obtaining “full-take audio” of all cell-phone conversations. For this new program, code-named SOMALGET, it needed a testing ground. The Bahamas — small, contained, peaceful, 50 miles from the Florida coast — fit the bill.

     In 2009, not long after Obama had taken office, the NSA gained access to Bahamian communications networks by subterfuge. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration got legal permission to plant monitoring equipment in the nation’s telecom systems by convincing the islands’ government that the operation would help catch drug dealers. Really, though, it opened a backdoor for the NSA so that it could tap, record, and store cellular data. “[O]ur covert mission is the provision of SIGINT [signals intelligence],” a document leaked by Snowden stated. The host country was “not aware.”

    Within two years, SOMALGET would achieve its goal of 100 percent surveillance in the Bahamas — all without legal warrants. This included spying on the cell phones of some 6 million U.S. citizens who visit or reside in the country each year; notable celebrities with homes there are Bill Gates, John Travolta, and Tiger Woods.

   The NSA didn’t stop with the Bahamas, however. It eventually deployed SOMALGET in Afghanistan, which brought the total number of conversations recorded and stored by the program to “over 100 million call events per day,” according to leaked agency files. It also began collecting metadata from phones in the Philippines, Mexico, and Kenya. NSA planning documents in 2013 anticipated further uses in other countries.

    In some cases, the Obama administration cooperated with foreign governments to expand its reconnaissance capabilities. This included members of the Five Eyes, a clandestine alliance of intelligence agencies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand that dates back to the Cold War. During Obama’s first three years in office, the U.S. government paid the British equivalent of the NSA, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), at least $150 million to enhance surveillance. Because undersea fiber-optic cables from North and South America transit the United Kingdom on their way to Europe and the Middle East, the GCHQ was in an ideal position to place taps on them. It did just that, on cables that could transfer upwards of 21 petabytes of information daily; this included a large slice of the internet, which could be stored for three days before being replaced by new data, and some 600 million “telephone events” every 24 hours. In 2010, not long after becoming operational, the program grew to be so successful that the GCHQ boasted it had the “biggest internet access” of any Five Eyes member. “This is a massive amount of data!” acknowledged an agency PowerPoint later made public by Snowden. Another leaked document declared,
 “We are in the golden age.”

    To sift through everything, 250 NSA analysts joined forces with about 300 from the GCHQ. Using computer systems, they searched for data containing any of 71,000 “selectors,” such as keywords, email addresses, or phone numbers. Internally, this work was dubbed Mastering of The Internet (MTI). A leaked 2010 GCHQ document stated, “MTI delivered the next big step in the access, processing and storage journey.” In a single day, the file continued, a GCHQ surveillance operation known as Tempora had captured, stored, and analyzed some 39 billion pieces of information.

     The acceleration of surveillance required a construction boom of a scale unprecedented in the history of U.S. intelligence. On March 5, 2012, Alexander opened what is likely the world’s largest listening post, about 130 miles north of Savannah, Georgia; members of the press were warned not to bring cameras within two miles. The $286 million, 604,000-square-foot facility has more than 2,500 workstations and 47 conference rooms, and it employs more than 4,000 eavesdroppers and other personnel who focus on the Middle East. Earphones on, facing their computers, employees sit in cubicles and listen to “cuts,” or intercepted conversations. “It’s very near real time,” Adrienne Kinne, a former intercept operator at the complex, told me a few years ago. “We would just get these thousands of cuts dumped on us … [from] Iraq, Afghanistan, and a whole swath of area. We would get [calls in] Tajik, Uzbek, Russian, Chinese.”

   As of 2013, the NSA had spent upwards of $300 million to expand a former Sony chip-fabrication plant near San Antonio and turn it into the agency’s principal listening post for the Caribbean and Central and South America. About 900 miles northwest, it was also constructing a new operations building at Buckley Air Force Base near Denver. The mission was to collect intercepted communications from spy satellites, including Advanced Orions, and ground stations like Menwith Hill, then transmit the data through fiber-optic cables to analysts at their desks near Savannah, San Antonio, and at other NSA outposts. Meanwhile, in January 2012, the NSA opened a $358 million listening post on the island of Oahu targeting Asian and Pacific countries. Upon its debut, Alexander said in a news release that the facility’s goal “is to produce foreign signals intelligence for decision-makers as global terrorism now jeopardizes the lives of our citizens, military forces, and international allies.”

    Not to be left out, Menwith Hill also underwent a multimillion-dollar expansion. Like a moon base hidden in the rolling Yorkshire hills, the station’s 33 giant golf-ball-like radomes house parabolic antennas capable of 2 million intercepts an hour from communications satellites. To better analyze data at the post, in 2012, the NSA added powerful supercomputers and boosted personnel from 1,800 to 2,500.

    That November, Obama was re-elected following a campaign that centered almost exclusively on domestic and economic issues; little attention was paid to surveillance and privacy. (The Snowden leaks were still more than six months down the road.) Beyond the campaign trail, however, on high ground in Bluffdale, Utah, construction was in progress on the pièce de résistance of Obama’s shadow empire. The $2 billion, 1-million-square-foot complex was set to function as the centerpiece of the NSA’s global eavesdropping operations. Into it would flow streams of emails, text messages, tweets, Google searches, financial records, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, metadata, and telephone chatter picked up by the constellation of satellites, cable taps, and listening posts by then in operation.

     For intelligence analysts, the Bluffdale facility serves as a sort of “cloud,” or external hard drive, for intercepted data. About 200 people tend to some 10,000 racks of humming, blinking servers containing trillions of words and thoughts sucked up from unsuspecting people. Some areas of the complex contain data considered critical, such as calls and emails to and from key members of al Qaeda and the Islamic State; other information is eventually erased to make room for more on the servers.

    Outside the facility, there’s been the occasional protest. In June 2014, a bulbous, 135-foot-long blimp appeared in the sky bearing a giant sign that read, “NSA Illegal Spying Below.” Inside were representatives from a coalition of grassroots groups dedicated to privacy. “We’re flying an airship over the Utah data center,” a written statement from one participating organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, proclaimed, “which has come to symbolize the NSA’s collect-it-all approach to surveillance.”

    Although the effort to gather every possible bit of information follows a certain logic — the more you have, the more likely you are to find what you’re looking for — it is complicated by what NSA officials refer to as the three V’s. “Inside [the] NSA, we often say that’s the volume, velocity, variety issue,” Alexander’s deputy, Chris Inglis, told an audience of intelligence officials in 2010, “an enormous quantity of information moving ever faster and coming at us in very complex forms.”

   Obama’s surveillance architecture, it seems, has done little to address this multifaceted problem. In fact, it may have made it worse. Privacy hasn’t been traded for security, but for the government hoarding more data than it knows how to handle. Kinne, the former intercept operator, described her work as “just like searching blindly through all these cuts to see what the hell was what.”

    In the wake of the Snowden leaks, administration officials tried hard to justify the secret collection of Americans’ telephone records. “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information,” Obama said during a visit to Berlin in 2013. He offered no specific examples. Alexander, meanwhile, claimed numerous times to the media and in public speeches that “54 different terrorist-related activities” had been thwarted. But he, too, offered no examples.

     On Oct. 2, 2013, when called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the general backtracked. Alexander cited only one instance when an intercept detected a potential threat: a Somali taxi driver living in San Diego who sent $8,500 to al-Shabab, his home country’s notorious terrorist group. That winter, a panel set up by Obama to review the NSA’s operations concluded that the agency had stopped no terrorist attacks. “We found none,” Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor and one of five panel members, bluntly told NBC News in December 2013. Since then, despite mass surveillance both at home and abroad, shootings or bombings have occurred in San Bernardino, California; Orlando, Florida; Paris; Brussels; and Istanbul — to name just a few places.

   Beyond failures to create security, there is the matter of misuse or abuse of U.S. spying, the effects of which extend well beyond violations of Americans’ constitutional liberties. 

   In 2014, I met with Snowden in Moscow for a magazine assignment. Over pizza in a hotel room not far from Red Square, he told me that the NSA puts innocent people in danger. In his experience, for instance, the agency routinely had passed raw, unredacted intercepts of millions of phone calls and emails from Arab- and Palestinian-Americans to its Israeli counterpart, Unit 8200. Once in Israeli hands, Snowden feared, this information might be used to extort information or otherwise harm relatives of the individuals being spied upon.

   That September, after my interview with Snowden was published, 43 members of Unit 8200 quit their posts in moral protest. They charged publicly that Israel used intercepted communications, like those sent to it by the NSA, to inflict “political persecution” on Palestinians. They said data were gathered on sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions, and other private matters and then used as tools of coercion — to force targets into becoming Israeli collaborators, for example. “[T]he intelligence is used to apply pressure to people, to make them cooperate with Israel,” one member of the dissenting group, who asked that his name not be used, told the Guardian.

  The NSA has at least considered employing similar tactics in the United States. In a top-secret memo dated Oct. 3, 2012, Alexander raised the possibility of using vulnerabilities discovered in mass data — “viewing sexually explicit material online,” for instance — to damage reputations. The agency could, say, smear individuals it believed were radicalizing others in an effort to diminish their influence.

   Obama, meanwhile, has taken virtually no steps to fix what ails his spying apparatus. 

   After the Snowden revelations, the president called for ending the NSA’s collection of metadata from phone calls by U.S. citizens. But this represents a rare tremor in the surveillance state. More consistently, Obama has limited oversight. In his first year as president, he threatened to veto a bill from his own party that would have required him to brief all members of congressional intelligence committees about covert operations, as opposed to the much smaller “Gang of Eight,” made up of top-ranking party and committee leaders and created in the Bush era to shield illegal activities from scrutiny. Gang briefings, former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke told Rachel Maddow in 2009, were often a “farce.”

   While keeping critics at bay, the Obama administration has gone after people blowing the whistle on intelligence abuses. The Justice Department has charged eight leakers — more than double the number under all previous presidents combined. “[T]his trend line should be going in the opposite direction,” an ACLU lawyer argued in a 2014 blog post. “The modern national security state is more powerful than ever — more powerful even than during the Cold War. It demands democratic accountability.”

   The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) released a report in June detailing what it calls a “data tsunami.” By the end of this decade, there will be anywhere from 50 billion to 200 billion networked devices on a planet of some 8 billion people. “For the intelligence community, this equates to 40 zettabytes of data, or 1 sextillion bytes,” the NGA states. “Described in more familiar terms, this is the equivalent of every person on the planet having 174 newspapers delivered daily.” Viewed another way, that’s more data than 7 billion Libraries of Congress could hold.

   In the surveillance state Obama has built, this deluge threatens to bury the few needles that might exist — warnings of attacks, signals of radicalizing groups, rallying cries of extremist recruiters — even deeper in the proverbial haystack. So, too, does encryption: Once a tool used mostly by spy agencies and militaries, encryption is becoming commonplace in everyday digital chatter to keep government eyes and ears out. Gmail offers it. WhatsApp began providing its billion-plus users with automatic encryption in April. In July, Facebook announced that it would soon give the option of end-to-end encryption on its Messenger app. More services will surely follow.

   Speed is a critical component in breaking encryption because most codes are based on factoring extremely large prime numbers. Conducting what’s known as a “brute force” attack — trying every possible combination of digits — using even the most powerful computers in operation would take centuries or longer to succeed.

    Obama, though, signed an executive order in July 2015 urging the creation of an exaflop supercomputer — a machine about 30 times faster than anything in existence. It would be capable of conducting more than a quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000) operations per second. The president’s charge to build was mostly targeted at the scientific community; behind the scenes, however, the NSA has been preparing to breach the exaflop barrier since 2011.

   That year, the agency secretly built a 260,000-square-foot facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the same place where the Manhattan Project developed the atomic bomb. Its research focuses on hitting the computing speed that would not only give the agency an edge over encryption, but also provide it with better cataloging capabilities to tackle the ocean of data already arriving daily at complexes like the one in Bluffdale, Utah.

   The government is also finding ways to cheat, most notably through Bullrun, a code-named program run jointly by the NSA and the GCHQ. The agencies clandestinely collaborate with technology companies and internet service providers to “insert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems,” as reported by the Guardian. As of 2010, according to a top-secret GCHQ PowerPoint, the NSA had already achieved a breakthrough: “Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable,” the leaked slides state. By 2015, the British agency hoped to have cracked the encryption of 15 major internet companies.

   Looking further into the future, Obama’s NSA has also explored quantum computing — technology that, theoretically, could defeat encryption for good. Its science breaks all the rules. Today, data are stored in binary bits — either ones or zeros — but in quantum computing, so-called qubits could be both one and zero at the same time. This would allow for almost incomprehensible operating speeds. According to documents released by Snowden, the NSA has been working to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” as part of a research program broadly called Penetrating Hard Targets.
Ultrafast computing could be a game-changer in U.S. intelligence. It would break the last line of defense against government intrusion. Though this wouldn’t necessarily — or even likely — guarantee that security threats could be identified, it would allow the surveillance state to seize every bit of power that its backers, including Obama, have sought to give it.

   After the White House panel set up to review NSA surveillance in 2013 suggested halting efforts to undermine commercial encryption, the president demurred. In a speech — one of the few he’s given on surveillance in his second term — Obama kept to the middle of the political road. “We have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals and our Constitution require,” he said. “We need to do so not only because it is right, but because the challenges posed by threats like terrorism, and proliferation, and cyberattacks are not going away anytime soon.”
Zack Whittaker, the security editor for ZDNet, summed up Obama’s remarks in a headline: “Keep calm and carry on spying.”

   Whoever wins the upcoming presidential election will probably do just that. In response to the Orlando shooting in June, Hillary Clinton said, “I have proposed an intelligence surge to bolster our capabilities across the board with appropriate safeguards here at home” — but offered no details on what that would entail. She has called for Snowden to return from Russia and face trial, and while supporting the end of the NSA’s metadata program, she’s suggested that the agency never broke the law. “I think it’s fair to say the government, the NSA, didn’t, so far as we know, cross legal lines, but they came right up and sat on them,” she told an audience at a San Francisco technology summit in August 2014.

   Donald Trump’s rhetoric, meanwhile, suggests that he would prioritize making America’s surveillance empire as powerful as possible. “I think security has to preside, and it has to be preeminent,” he told Fox News in June 2015. Trump has also said NSA reconnaissance is just a fact of modern American life. “I assume that when I pick up my telephone, people are listening to my conversations,” he told radio host Hugh Hewitt last December, implying that Americans should just get used to being spied on.

   Whistleblowers, it seems, would not fare well under a Trump administration. “If I were president, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin would give him over,” Trump said of Snowden in a July 2015 appearance on CNN. In 2013, speaking on Fox & Friends, he was even tougher. “I think Snowden is a terrible threat. I think he’s a terrible traitor, and you know what we used to do in the good old days when we were a strong country?” Trump asked. “You know what we used to do to traitors, right?” One of the hosts interjected, “Well, you killed them, Donald.” Trump agreed.

   This is Obama’s legacy on surveillance: a shadow state of brick and mortar, hardware and software, satellites and eavesdroppers, that is ready to grow on the next president’s command. How big is too big, though, is a question the outgoing president has never answered fully. At what point does gathering data become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end? Is the U.S. government already there or approaching it?

   Unless answers come, 50 years from now, the world may look back at Obama’s architecture of surveillance — full of radomes, windowless walls, phone taps, and double-ringed fences — with the same puzzled astonishment that 1950s bomb shelters elicit today.

Correction, Sept. 12, 2016: The Delta IV Heavy is the most powerful American rocket in use today. A previous version of this article misstated that it was the most powerful rocket in the country’s history.

C 2015 Reader Supported News

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs