Open Thread: Late Afternoon News UpdatePosted: June 25, 2013
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!!
Here’s an fresh thread, since the morning reads one is getting so long. I have several updates for you on the Snowden/NSA story.
Eli Lake of The Daily Beast got some disturbing news from Glenn Greenwald: Snowden’s Files Are Out There if “Anything Happens” To Him. I posted this link on the previous thread, but it should be highlighted. According to Greenwald, Snowden gave complete copies of the the secret NSA files he stole to “many people around the world.” Supposedly the files are encrypted, but from what we know of Snowden’s spycraft knowledge, I don’t think that’s a guarantee that they’ll stay secret. From The Daily Beast article:
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian Newspaper journalist Snowden first contacted in February, told the Daily Beast Tuesday that Snowden “has taken extreme precautions to make sure many different people around the world have these archives to insure the stories will inevitably be published.” Greenwald added that the people in possession of these files “cannot access them yet because they are highly encrypted and they do not have the passwords.” But, Greenwald said, “if anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he told me he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives.” [....]
A former U.S. counter-intelligence officer following the Snowden saga closely said his contacts inside the U.S. intelligence community “think Snowden has been planning this for years and has stashed files all over the internet.” This source added, “At this point there is very little anyone can do about this.”
Greenwald assured Lake that although he (Greenwald) is in possession of top secret information about “the technical specifications of NSA systems,” but that he won’t publish them. I wonder how well Greenwald’s computer is protected?
On Snowden’s aforementioned spycraft skills, let’s see what a real former spy thinks. From Foreign Policy:
We reached out to FP contributor David Gomez, a former assistant special agent-in-charge and counterterrorism program manager with the FBI, to get his take. When was Snowden being savvy — and when did it seem as if he’d just watched a few too many spy movies?
Cell phones in the fridge
While it’s true that cell phones can easily be compromised and turned into recording devices, Gomez says it’s unlikely that anyone seeking to record Snowden would have used a phone anyway. If someone had wanted to eavesdrop, Gomez explains, he or she more likely would have worn a concealed wire. Or, if a government’s agents had been trying to listen in from outside of the room, they might have deployed a long-range microphone, among other techniques. The bottom line: a refrigerated cell phone probably wasn’t stopping anyone who wanted to listen badly enough — though it may have extended the phone’s battery life.
Lining the hotel door with pillows
While not particularly effective at stopping anyone actively seeking to spy on Snowden, pillows could have muffled the sounds of any conversations going on in his Hong Kong hotel room enough that an unsuspecting person passing by wouldn’t overhear something alarming, Gomez says.
Wearing a hood while entering computer passwords, to avoid hidden cameras
The danger while entering computer passwords is unlikely to come from a hidden camera planted in the hotel, Gomez says, but rather from keystroke-logging software, against which a hoodie provides little protection.
Signaling his identity to reporters by carrying a Rubik’s Cube through a hotel
While spies do at times use signals to identify one another, the idea in doing so is to not draw attention to yourself, Gomez explains. Thus, when arranging a meeting, as Snowden did with a group of journalists in Hong Kong, it is both unhelpful and unnecessary to carry something as out of place as a Rubik’s Cube. It would have been better, Gomez adds, for Snowden to have simply described, say, his clothing in detail. “If you’re going to meet with all these people, what’s the point of being Sneaky Pete?” Gomez asks.
Gomez says Snowden seems to be an amateur.
Here’s a link that JJ posted twice yesterday and I also posted it on the previous thread. Again, I think it should be highlighted: How Edward Snowden Could Hurt the U.S.
Snowden allegedly downloaded significant amounts of information about some of the country’s most sensitive secrets — specifically how the U.S. government does surveillance abroad. One source told ABC News that as an information specialist with security clearance “he understood the framework of how the whole U.S. surveillance network works.” [....]
Another official said Snowden had access to a particularly important computer server in the government’s system “which contained ridiculous amounts of information” totaling hundreds of pages worth of secrets. He is suspected of storing stolen material on computers and making copies of documents. At risk is the effectiveness of billions of dollars worth of supercomputer and clandestine spying resources.
Snowden has also claimed to have access to the names of undercover CIA officers and other top secret human intelligence data.
Beyond technical systems, U.S. officials are deeply concerned that Snowden used his sensitive position to read about U.S. human assets, for example spies and informants overseas as well as safe houses and key spying centers.
They worry this recent quote from Snowden was not an exaggeration: ” I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all over the world. The locations of every station, we have what their missions are, and so forth.”
So it’s not just about what he took, but what he knows, officials emphasize. Officials describe Snowden as a walking treasure trove, a dream for foreign intelligence services. One intelligence official called Snowden and his cache an “entire U.S. government problem.”
A few more barebones links:
Forbes has a rundown of what Snowden has revealed so far. Take A Break From The Snowden Drama For A Reminder Of What He’s Revealed So Far
The Atlantic: Where the U.S.–and Snowden–Could Go from Here.
Cathy Young at Real Clear Politics: The Company Snowden Keeps
In Other News…
Voting Rights Act
From ABC News The Note: John Lewis: Court’s Decision Puts ‘Dagger in Heart of Voting Rights Act’
Rep. John Lewis, who witnessed the signing of the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965 after he helped wage a bloody fight for civil rights in America, said today he was “shocked, dismayed and disappointed” the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of the landmark law.
“What the Supreme Court did was to put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Lewis told ABC News. “This act helped liberate not just a people but a nation.”
Lewis, 73, who is among the last living leaders of the civil rights movement, called the decision “a very sad moment” for the nation. He stood in his congressional office, surrounded by black-and-white photographs from a bygone era and watched with ABC News as the Supreme Court released its ruling.
“I’m in disbelief that members of the Supreme Court would take this position,” Lewis said. “We’ve come a distance. We’ve made progress, but there is still progress to be made.”
A look of sadness fell across his face as the decision came down. With the Supreme Court essentially instructing Congress to update the voting rights provision, Lewis said he feared a polarized Congress would be unable to reach agreement.
Please go read the rest.
Chicago Tribune: Obama, Democrats vow to act on voter rights after ruling
President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress on Tuesday promised to act swiftly to restore protections for the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities after the Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
It was unclear whether Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, would provide the support needed for any legislative effort to offset the high-court ruling, which was denounced by critics as a setback for civil rights.
Ha ha. Good luck with getting help from Republicans.
Republicans were largely silent on the court’s ruling. Neither House Speaker John Boehner nor Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, had any immediate comment.
Did you know that New England was once affected by the Voting Rights Act? From The Boston Globe:
…[C]ontrary to the complaints one hears from other parts of the country about the oppressiveness of Section 5, up here in New England, we’ve somehow been able to handle it pretty easily.
Oh, you didn’t know the Act affected New England? Why it sure did. Past tense—because if you can go a stretch of 10 years without, you know, trying to screw over any minorities, it turns out that you get out of the whole Section 4/Section 5 thing pretty easily.
Maine had 18 towns that fell under pre-approval status, all of which got this “bailout,” as it’s called, in 1976. Three Connecticut towns got the bailout in 1984.
And yes, even Massachusetts had towns covered by the formula: Amherst, Ayer, Belchertown, Bourne, Harvard, Sandwich, Shirley, Sunderland, and Wrentham. They all got the bailout in 1983.
The last remaining New England laggards were 10 small New Hampshire towns: Antrim, Benton, Boscawen, Millsfield, Newington, Pinkham’s Grant, Rindge, Stewartstown, Stratford, and Unity.
Whenever those towns have wanted to, for example, use new voting machines or change polling places, they needed to inform the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and get an OK first. And every new state law concerning voting laws—since they implicitly cover those towns—also required a letter to DoJ. As, for example, when New Hampshire decided, prior to the 2012 elections, to stop letting people apply to be on the ballot for Vice President without an accompanying Presidential candidate.
Obama’s Climate Change Speech
The Boston Globe: Obama takes aim at changing climate
In a major speech at Georgetown University, Obama warned Americans of the deep and disastrous effects of climate change, urging them to take action before it’s too late.
‘‘As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act,’’ Obama said.
Obama announced he was directing his administration to launch the first-ever federal regulations on heat-trapping gases emitted by new and existing power plants — ‘‘to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution.’’
Other aspects of the plan will boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.
I hate to say this, but I think this speech was probably the sweetener for the impending approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Obama also offered a rare insight into his administration’s deliberations on Keystone XL, an oil pipeline whose potential approval has sparked an intense fight between environmental activists and energy producers.
The White House has insisted the State Department is making the decision independently, but Obama said Tuesday he’s instructing the department to approve it only if the project won’t increase overall, net emissions of greenhouse gases.
‘‘Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests,’’ Obama said. ‘‘Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.’’
Coal stocks jumped after President Obama’s speech on climate change, in which he laid out a sweeping initiative to limit carbon emissions from all power plants in the U.S.
Coal producers like Peabody Energy Co. and Walter Energy Inc., along with some utilities companies, are warning that Obama’s plan will raise consumer energy costs, but investors decided not to let that stop them.
After the President’s announcement, coal producer Peabody Energy stock increased 1% and Walter Energy stock increased 8.5%.
Though coals stocks were up Tuesday, the news out of the Obama administration has already done damage to coal companies over the last few days. Peabody stock has dropped 17% since June 15th and closed 5.4% lower on Monday. Walter’s stock closed about 11% lower on Monday.
Obama is calling for ending government subsidies to U.S. companies that build coal plants overseas, except for those that use so-called “carbon capture” technology. The end of subsidies will increase the cost of business for coal and energy companies, which the energy industry claims will be shifted on to the consumer and hurt the economic recovery.