In 2003, two New York Times reporters caught the scent of the story that would come to define the surveillance state and the press’s response to it. Stuart Stevens tells the story behind that story.
The current NSA spying story is the latest chapter in one that that started in September 2001, and began to be uncovered in 2003. That’s when two reporters in the New York Times D.C. bureau—James Risen covering the CIA, Eric Lichtblau the Justice department—independently begin to pull on the threads of a fascinating story.
Protesters accused the Times of publishing information that harmed the nation's security and called for the prosecution of publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Executive Editor Bill Keller and reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau on July 3, 2006 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty)
Unlike the recent document dump by a single source, Lichtblau and Risen were working with multiple sources, who were telling them different details about some kind of new surveillance project the Bush administration had launched. Though the two were casual newsroom acquaintances, they hadn’t worked together before. Each worked their sources for months before investigative editor Rebecca Corbett suggested that they might be working on different ends of the same story and they began to collaborate on their reporting about what they called “The Program.”
The three—Lichtblau, Risen, and Corbett—were an unlikely combination. Lichtblau was Ivy League and looked it, with a classic, direct style of questioning that was blunt and to the point. A large man who seems more like an amiable detective than a reporter, Risen, also an Ivy Leaguer, was the son of a railroad man with little patience for self-important elites. Rebecca Corbett had recently arrived at the Times from the Baltimore Sun, where she had edited David Simon, who later named a character for her in his show The Wire. She entered with an outsider’s indifference to the long-running feuds of the various factions within the Times. I was later hired by HBO to write a script about their story.
As the bill makes its way though the Senate, critical swing votes could make or break immigration reform.
An aggressive hunt for votes to pass immigration reform began this week as the Senate agreed to start the lengthy, and likely heated, debate about whether and how to provide citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
Tens of thousands of immigrants and immigration supporters rallied on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in April, but major immigration reform has yet to pass. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call, via Getty)
But backers of reform said merely passing the bill with 50, 60 or even 65 votes won’t be enough to get the Republican House to act on the legislation. Instead, a new goal of a 70-vote über-majority has sent senators, lobbyists, and outside interest groups scrambling to push roughly two dozen moderates from both parties to commit to voting yes or no.
“If we don’t get to 70, we’re in trouble,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–South Carolina) told The Daily Beast, stressing that there’s a difference between passing a bill through the Senate and seeing it become law. “If you get 61, it probably dooms it to die in the House, so I think it’s imperative to get close to half our caucus.”
In her 20s, Avril Haines held erotica readings at the Baltimore bookstore and restaurant she co-owned at the time. Ben Jacobs and Avi Zenilman report.
The former host of “Erotica Night” at a Baltimore bookstore will be the first-ever female No. 2 official at the CIA.
On Wednesday, Barack Obama nominated Avril Danica Haines to be the deputy director of the CIA, replacing Michael Morell, who twice served as acting director of the agency but took much of the blame for editing the highly controversial talking points around the 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi. As a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s office, Haines oversaw the approval process for the CIA's covert actions, acting as a vital link between the CIA and the president.
Avril Haines has up until now remained a low-key member of the Obama administration. (Rex Features, via AP)
But 20 years ago, Haines opened and co-owned Adrian’s Book Café in the Baltimore waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point. She opened Adrian’s after dropping out of a graduate program in physics at Johns Hopkins University. The store featured regular “Erotica Nights.” including dinner and a series of readings by guests of published work or their own prose, according to a 1995 report in the Baltimore Sun; couples could attend for $30, while singles paid $17.
And we’re just living in it. As the libertarian’s profile grows, Democrats are beginning to use him as a symbol of sinister Republican power.
A man who was an obscure ophthalmologist only four years ago reinforced his role as one of the important political figures in the United States during a short speech on immigration reform before a gathering of conservative Latinos in the Hyatt Hotel in Washington on Wednesday morning. The freshman senator from Kentucky strategically placed himself in the middle ground of the immigration debate. “I’m sort of in between, I think, of where the House and the Senate is,” said Paul.
Though Rand Pauls place in the spotlight is newfound, he is already drawing fire from Democrats. (Reed Saxon/AP)
In remarks to reporters afterward he made clear that his vote was still up for grabs—provided that the bipartisan Gang of Eight, which wrote the Senate bill, listened to his suggestions on border security and farm workers. Paul said that those “in charge of the bill” should “come to people like me who want to vote for it but are not quite there yet and say to us what would it take to bring you along.” Although the Kentucky senator voted to allow debate on the bill on Tuesday, he is still on the fence about supporting final passage.
Paul touted his “trust but verify” proposal that would require the border patrol to certify that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure each year. This certification would have to be affirmed by Congress in an annual vote for any undocumented immigrants to be put on a path to citizenship.
It’s not too late to restore confidence, writes “digital Cassandra” Lawrence Lessig, but we need to start by asking the right questions.
“The United States government spies on its citizens.” What does that mean?
Almost 15 years ago, as I was just finishing a book about the relationship between the Net (we called it “cyberspace” then) and civil liberties, a few ideas seemed so obvious as to be banal: First, life would move to the Net. Second, the Net would change as it did so. Gone would be simple privacy, the relatively anonymous default infrastructure for unmonitored communication; in its place would be a perpetually monitored, perfectly traceable system supporting both commerce and the government. That, at least, was the future that then seemed most likely, as business raced to make commerce possible and government scrambled to protect us (or our kids) from pornographers, and then pirates, and now terrorists.
But another future was also possible, and this was my third, and only important point: Recognizing these obvious trends, we just might get smart about how code (my shorthand for the technology of the Internet) regulates us, and just possibly might begin thinking smartly about how we could embed in that code the protections that the Constitution guarantees us. Because—and here was the punchline, the single slogan that all 724 people who read that book remember—code is law. And if code is law, then we need to be as smart about how code regulates us as we are about how the law does so.
Quietly, Obama may be moving ahead.
THREE WEEKS ago, President Obama tried to seize the initiative in balancing the war on terror with civil liberties. In a major address at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., he announced his intention to reform the drone wars and revive his long-dormant effort to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. What a long three weeks it’s been: since then, the national-security conversation has been dominated by the Justice Department’s aggressive crackdown on leaks and blockbuster revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities.
One might expect those controversies to have overwhelmed Obama’s efforts on drones and Guantánamo. But, at least on Gitmo, there seem to be some small signs that Obama is quietly pressing on. Late last week came word of a fact-finding trip to the prison by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and John McCain. What was especially notable was who accompanied them: White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. According to a congressional source, McDonough heard about the trip and asked if he could tag along. The excursion was seen as a positive signal by those who want Obama to close Gitmo because it suggests that he is putting muscle behind his promise and that he understands he can succeed only by engaging Congress.
Meanwhile, State Department sources say there are signs of life again in the office formerly occupied by onetime Guantánamo czar Daniel Fried, the veteran diplomat who was reassigned at the beginning of this year. Since announcing plans to name new Gitmo envoys at both State and the Pentagon three weeks ago, the White House has given no indication when those appointments will come. But Obama may have already settled on a candidate, at least at State. One administration official says this person is an “outsider” rather than a foreign-service professional. The source adds that the likely pick has political chops and a strong familiarity with Congress. That would be welcome news on Capitol Hill. “They don’t need a policy person who understands the nuts and bolts of the process,” says one congressional aide who has been following the Gitmo saga closely. “They need someone who can advocate domestically and internationally to get people moved.”
Another potentially positive indicator for supporters of closing Guantánamo: the government of Yemen announced this week that it had begun to work with Saudi Arabia to develop a rehabilitation program for jihadis. That is a key development because among the remaining 166 detainees at Gitmo are 56 Yemenis. In early 2010, Obama had imposed a ban on their return to Yemen because of the iffy security situation there. He recently lifted the ban contingent on assurances that they could be repatriated safely. A rehab program could smooth the way for their return.
The Senate has changed. Why can’t the U.S. military?
WHEN A dozen military leaders testified before Congress earlier this month about the alarming rise of sexual assaults in their ranks, they faced a Senate panel that included seven women—a record number for the predominantly male Armed Services Committee. The female representation among the senators made the paucity of women on the military side that much more noticeable. If you looked hard, there was one woman seated third from the end. But her presence did little to change the overall impression left by the group: a long line of mostly stolid men, awkward and out of touch with the issue they were speaking about.
The scene made me think back to another Senate hearing, which rocked the political universe a generation ago. In October 1991, the nation was riveted as the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Anita Hill about her charge of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas. Thomas went on to the Supreme Court, and public opinion was divided on who was telling the truth. But the image of 14 men berating Hill about her veracity in sexually graphic terms provoked a political backlash from women, who were made newly aware how underrepresented they were in Congress.
There were then just two women in the 100-member Senate, Republican Nancy Kassebaum and Democrat Barbara Mikulski. Ellen Malcolm, who founded the organization EMILY’s List in 1985 to elect more pro-choice Democratic women, recently recalled how Dianne Feinstein declared at the time that “2 percent is fine for low-fat milk, but not for women in the Senate.” Feinstein campaigned on that slogan in 1992 and won a Senate seat, as did fellow Californian Barbara Boxer and two others, Patty Murray of Washington State and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. They tripled the number of women in the Senate from two to six in what was dubbed “the Year of the Woman.”
Two decades later there are 20 women in the Senate, 16 Democrats and 4 Republicans—far from parity, but enough to ensure that, earlier this month, there was a critical mass of women asking questions at the Armed Services hearing. Of course, that did not fully compensate for the fact that the military officials testifying before the committee were almost entirely male. But hopefully that will not always be the case: the dramatic increase in the number of women in the Senate since 1991 is evidence that even the most hidebound institutions can change with the times.
Why won’t the right-wing congressman release the full transcript of his IRS investigation? Michael Tomasky has a theory.
All right, let’s get back to the IRS. While everyone was focused on the Edward Snowden revelations, we had an interesting development in the IRS matter that throws another several gallons of ice-cold water on Darrell Issa’s alleged case against the Obama administration—and that raises some interesting questions about how Issa and his staff are using the information they have obtained. Republicans have been hoping to ride this horse into 2014 and beyond, but it may be ready for the glue factory already.
Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel (left) talks with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (right), accompanied by the committee's ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, on June 6 after he testified before the committee’s hearing regarding IRS conference spending. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
Late last week, a few news stories appeared quoting some employees of the IRS Cincinnati office saying quasi-ominous things about being directed from Washington to do this or that. This CBS News article provides a good example. One beleaguered IRS employee, Elizabeth Hofacre, said she was instructed to clear all letters she sent to tea party groups through an IRS lawyer in Washington—which to said groups naturally brings to mind the image of this lawyer hand-delivering the letters to Obama himself as the two of them laugh the laughter of slippery cosmopolitans who’ve hoodwinked the booboisie yet again.
These remarks by Hofacre and others were made in secret session to Issa’s oversight committee, which has transcripts of these conversations. CBS, according to the article, reviewed the transcripts from “some” of the interviews. It seems obvious that reporters were shown mainly the bits that sounded scintillating and kept the story alive.
The ATF has not had a confirmed director since 2006, and the next one is going to find an urgency with its hands tied because of the gun lobby. Adam Winkler on why they need to be freed to do their job.
Today the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering the nomination of B. Todd Jones to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF. Looking at his résumé—and given that ATF has been without a confirmed director since 2006—you might think Jones’s confirmation would be a no-brainer. After graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School, Jones eschewed big-firm law practice and served his country instead, joining the Marines. He became a judge advocate in the service and, upon returning to civilian life, an assistant U.S. sttorney in Minnesota. In 2009 he became the lead U.S. attorney there, in charge of federal civil and criminal cases. He also knows the ATF well, having served for the past two years as the bureau’s acting director.
Yet the ATF is the main federal entity charged with enforcing America’s gun laws. So Jones’s nomination is inevitably tied up with the messy politics of guns. The National Rifle Association and its allies on Capitol Hill despise the ATF and have worked hard over the years to handcuff the bureau, insistent that it threatens the Second Amendment. As a result, Jones isn’t likely to be making up new business cards soon—and America’s gun problem will only deepen.
With approximately 15,000 people dying from the criminal misuse of guns each year, the ATF’s mission of shutting down the illegal supply of guns to criminals is of vital importance. For years, however, the ATF has been left without the resources—and leadership—to effectively intervene in the illegal market for guns. One of the best ways to stem this flow of guns is to identify which gun dealers are improperly selling to criminals. Congress, however, has made this as hard as possible. Out of fear of ATF creating a gun registry—which would inevitably be used to confiscate all of America’s guns (of course!)—gun-control opponents have forced ATF to trace guns the way 17th-century monks copied texts: by hand.
New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg says nearly $20 billion could protect the city from climate change. But can he—and his successor—walk the walk? David Freedlander reports.
Warning that the city faces dire consequences in the face of global climate change, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg laid out a far-reaching plan Tuesday to confront rising sea levels and a warming planet.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivers remarks about the city’s long-term plan to prepare for climate-change impacts June 11. (Mario Tama/Getty)
The plan, called “A Stronger and More Resilient New York,” comes in response to Hurricane Sandy, last year’s massive storm that rendered large swaths of the region uninhabitable and left 43 New Yorkers dead.
Speaking at Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, a World War II–era shipyard retrofitted as a green-technology manufacturing center, Bloomberg said, “Today this building that once turned out battleships now helps lead us in another battle—a battle that may well define our future for generations to come: the battle against climate change.”
The elite Federalist Society has become one of the most effective conservative groups in the country. How did it happen?
It seems like ancient history, but it was only 15 years ago that Hillary Clinton appeared on the Today show and accused Republicans of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to take down President Bill Clinton. Clinton was speaking in the last millennium, and she was speaking about all conservative interest groups, but her statement is very relevant when it comes to conservative efforts to change the direction of American law.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts pauses during a speech at the Federalist Society’s 25th-anniversary celebration. (Evan Vucci/AP)
There is a right-wing conspiracy in American law led by the influential Federalist Society and described by Michael Avery and Danielle McLaughlin in their new book The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals. But it is the fact that the right-wing conspiracy is not vast that has made the Federalist Society effective.
It was in 1982 that the Federalist Society was founded by a group of students at Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, and the University of Chicago Law School as an attempt to challenge what they considered to be the neglect of conservative and libertarian ideas in the American legal system. The students who founded the organization were an impressive group, and they were aided by leading luminaries like Robert Bork (who would be nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan and rejected by the Senate) and then-professor Antonin Scalia, now a Supreme Court justice.
The state party’s request for a list of concealed carry gun permit holders has angered Tea Party leaders, with one telling Ben Jacobs, ‘This is not the time to be jeopardizing people’s privacy.’
What does the Republican Party of Virginia have in common with Gawker? More than you think.
The Virginia Republican Party is coming under fire for using a gun registry list to contact potential voters. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty)
Like the New York City–based news and gossip blog, the Old Dominion branch of the GOP is under fire for requesting a list of concealed-carry-gun-permit holders. But while Gawker requested and published a list to out every permit holder in New York City, the Virginia Republicans have done so to only flesh out their voter database ahead of the coming gubernatorial election.
But pro–gun control New York City is no Virginia, where on July 1, after a concerted political effort led by Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain, the names and addresses of Virginians with a concealed-weapons permit will no longer be publicly available. By trying to mine the permit data just before the window closes, the state party is angering an awful lot of Old Dominion conservatives—even though it has gathered such information for years.
She’s out confronting hecklers, showing off new moves with Jimmy Fallon, skipping Chinese summits—Michelle Obama, ambivalent and buttoned up in her first term, is finally free, says Michelle Cottle.
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”
OK. Maybe those were not Michelle Obama’s exact words to the LGBT activist who disrupted her speech at a private DNC fundraiser last Tuesday. If, indeed, one insists on being a stickler about it, Mobama’s response was more along the lines of, “One of the things that I don’t do well is this!”
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk on the tarmac to board Air Force One at Dallas Love Field, April 25, 2013. (LM Otero/AP)
Still, Howard Beale would have been impressed. Whatever points heckler Ellen Sturtz was looking to score, the first lady was not playing. Her voice grew loud and defiant as she came out from behind the podium and got all up in Sturtz’s business. Then she gave the woman a choice: either shut the hell up, or I’m outta here.
The top-secret ‘Q Group’ has been chasing Edward Snowden since he disappeared in May. Eli Lake on the intel community’s internal police—and why the agency is in ‘complete freakout mode.’
Even before last week’s revelations by The Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting call records from telecommunications companies and had the ability to mine user data from major U.S. Internet companies, the NSA was already on the trail of the leaker, according to two former U.S. intelligence officers with close ties to the agency.
Edward Snowden’s (inset) disappearance in May was immediately noticed by the NSA. (Patrick Semansky/AP; inset: Getty)
On Sunday, The Guardian revealed its source—a 29-year-old former U.S. Army soldier and CIA employee named Edward Snowden. Snowden—who worked as a contract employee at an NSA station in Hawaii—said he agreed to have his identity revealed because he feared that the NSA would put pressure on his family and his friends for information about his whereabouts. From a hotel in Hong Kong, he told The Guardian he expected he would never be allowed to return home and that he could end up imprisoned or murdered because of his decision to leak.
The people who began chasing Snowden work for the Associate Directorate for Security and Counterintelligence, according to former U.S. intelligence officers who spoke on condition of anonymity. The directorate, sometimes known as “the Q Group,” is continuing to track Snowden now that he’s outed himself as The Guardian’s source, according to the intelligence officers. Snowden began final preparations for his departure three weeks ago, The Guardian reports, copying the final documents he intended to share, telling his supervisor that he would need time off for medical treatment, and his girlfriend simply that he would be away. "That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world," he told the paper in his interview from Hong Kong.
Jonathan Alter’s new history of the Obama presidency covers the 2010 midterm shellacking to his 2012 reelection—years defined by our failure to push for progressive reforms.
Campaigning for a third term as president in 1940, Franklin Roosevelt told an enthusiastic crowd in Cleveland: “You provided work for free men and women ... You used the powers of government to stop the depletion of the top soil ... You wrote into law the right of working men and women to bargain collectively ... You turned to the problems of youth and age … You made safe the banks.”
Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama. (AP)
I was reminded of FDR’s words when I heard President Obama say in his re-nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic Party Convention last September in Charlotte: “You were the change. You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who will get the surgery she needs … You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home … Only you have the power to move us forward.”
Articulating anew the fundamental democratic truth that democratic change requires democratic propulsion, Obama was urging Americans to recognize his administration’s initiatives as their own and to take responsibility for securing them by turning out in November. But his words led me to think again of what might have been if the president had taken that fundamental democratic truth to heart in 2009 and, like FDR, mobilized popular energies and aspirations to confront the crises of the day, beat the conservative and corporate opposition, and transform the nation for the better—and in turn, had we responded as did the men and women of the 1930s and 1940s by not only pursuing those labors and struggles, but also pushing our president to act ever more progressively with us.
President Obama tried to dispel concerns over NSA spying on 'Charlie Rose' Monday, saying 'if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails... and have not.' So what's the big deal, right? Right?
Laura Colarusso on how Edward Snowden, who wasn’t directly employed by the government, got top-secret intel.
Every week this month, the Supreme Court will hand down rulings. Josh Dzieza on what’s at stake.
Pentagon papers lawyer James Goodale has seen Holder’s actions before—in Richard Nixon.