The Dept. of Justice White Paper on NSA Domestic Spying Authority

A central part of the Bush Admin’s current PR blitz to counteract the mounting scandal over domestic spying by the NSA is a white paper released by the Dept. of Justice detailing the administration’s legal justifications for the president’s (alleged) authority to order domestic surveillance without a warrant.

It took about a week, but the thing has finally started showing up online. Now you can read it for yourself. Here’s the links, plus some related materials:

Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency Described by the President
(Dept. of Justice, Jan. 19, 2006) PDF, 262kb — also archived at EPIC.org

DOJ “Letter of Transmission” for the white paper
(DOJ: Atty. Gen. Gonzales to Sen. Bill Frist, Jan. 19, 2006) PDF, 160kb

Speech by Atty. Gen. Gonzales concerning the NSA program
(Georgetown University Law Center, Jan. 24, 2006) — also at: Univ. of Georgetown (PDF), and the DOJ site

What American Intelligence & Especially the NSA Have Been Doing to Defend the Nation
Remarks by Gen. Michael Hayden (National Press Club, Jan. 23, 2006) — also at Cryptome.
Gen. Hayden is currently the deputy director of National Intelligence and is former director of the NSA

The DOJ white paper was prepared largely in response to a report issued by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Here’s that as well:

Presidential Authority to Conduct Warrantless Electronic Surveillance to Gather Foreign Intelligence Information
(Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Jan. 5, 2006)

Of related interest:

Statutory Procedures Under Which Congress Is To Be Informed of U.S. Intelligence Activities, Including Covert Actions
(Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Jan. 18, 2006)

Zero Boys Worth Their Weight in Gold…Literally

I just visited the 7inchpunk site I was astonished to see that back in Nov. 2004 a copy of the first Zero Boys EP, Livin’ in the ’80s, eBayed for a whopping $538!!!

In their posting of tracks from the record, the 7inchpunk guys called it “worth its weight in gold,” and they ain’t kidding. I just checked and as of Jan. 27, 2006, gold was going for $558.50 an ounce.

Guess I better put my copy in a safety deposit box.

Documents: US ‘Detaining’ Wives and Children as ‘Leverage’ Against Iraqi Insurgents

Well, not like I support the tactic, but now we know why Iraqi insurgents have been abducting Western journalists and demanding US forces release women detainees. Of course, this story broke on a Saturday, known in Washington as “garbage day” because that’s the day they love to dump the really damaging stories. Why? Because Saturdays have the lowest news-attention factor of any other day of the week.

The Seattle Times appears to have one of the longer accounts: US Army detained suspects’ daughters, wives as leverage (Sat. Jan. 28, 2006 – Knight Ridder via the Seattle Times). Some excerpts:

The US Army has been detaining Iraqi women to help track down husbands or fathers who are suspected terrorists, according to documents released Friday and an interview with a female detainee who was released Thursday after four months in prison.

A series of e-mails written by US soldiers and an internal Army memo, all released Friday in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, describe two cases of women who were imprisoned because American officials wanted information about their husbands.

…US officials declined to discuss specific cases, including whether the women were held solely because US forces suspected that male relatives were terrorists. But Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, an Army spokesman in Baghdad, said Friday that the US military held only people who were considered threats.

Other press reports indicate (not surprisingly) that there are more cases than the two referenced above. Meanwhile, a check of the ACLU web site today (the day after the story broke) indicates the documents and emails referred to have not been posted there yet. They’re usually pretty good about getting that stuff up, so check there soon.

Also, this Reuters fragment from the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ web site provides some additional detail, including the text of a note left on the door of one Iraqi home:

“Be a man Muhammad Mukhlif and give yourself up and then we will release your sisters. Otherwise they will spend a long time in detention.” It was signed “Bandit 6,” apparently U.S. army code, possibly designating a company commander. Several neighbours corroborated Batawi’s account of events. When Reuters called a mobile phone number left on the note, an American who said he was a soldier appeared to be aware of Batawi’s accusation but declined further comment.

This sort of thing is standard, if disturbing, fare in the counterinsurgency doctrine of the US and client states dating back to the ’70s and ’80s. But if the Pentagon theorists and tacticians think this is going to play well (i.e. in the way they want) in the Middle East, they are seriously deluded.  There may be some short-term gain, but in the long run the practice will backfire just as hard as the “Gitmoizing” of Abu Ghraib did, if not worse.
And shame on the New York Times for (so far) ignoring this story.

Restoring the Original King Kong

Courtesy of Jeff Economy, a couple great articles on the surprisingly laborious effort to restore the original King Kong (1933) for DVD release in 2005, coinciding with Peter Jackson’s remake.

In a nutshell, the problem is the original negative was lost long ago. That meant the restorationists had to scour the globe for the best surviving prints and dupe negatives, meticulously log each and every shot from every candidate copy, and then piece it all together. The situation was such that in some cases they used a shot from one print, then tacked on a handful of frames to the end from another. Only once that had all been assembled could they proceed to digital restoration which was also far more labor intensive than your usual project like this. The same had to be done with the soundtrack (just because a print’s image was best didn’t mean its soundtrack was). For that they even used material from a 16mm print.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it, and the following make for fascinating reading.

The January 2006 issue of Millimeter magazine has a rather lengthy sidebar — Kong, the Original” — that provides a good overview of the lengths that had to be gone to, the processes used, and the decisions made along the way.

Meanwhile, an earlier piece at The Digital Bits, “King Kong: The DVD Interview,” is a transcript of an interview by the site’s editor with George Feltenstein, Senior VP Theatrical Catalog Marketing for Warner Home Video; Ned Price, VP of Mastering for Warner Brothers Technical Operations; Ronnee Sass, Executive Director of Publicity for Warner Home Video.

If I may suggest, if you’re going to spring for the DVD (and haven’t yet already), the 2-disk collector’s edition is well worth the extra few bucks. The feature-length documentary on the second disk is truly excellent and worth the price of admission on its own merits, and the other extras (including Team Jackson’s recreation of the legendary lost “Spider Pit sequence”) are tasty icing on the cake.

You should also take pains to get the DVD edition, released simultaneously, of Mighty Joe Young (1949 — NOT to be confused with that Disney crap from a few years ago), which remains an immensely entertaining film and features some jaw-droppingly advanced stop-motion animation and matte work executed by Willis O’Brien (Kong’s animation poppa) and his assistant, Ray Harryhausen, the latter day stop-mo king who made his feature debut with this film.

Finally, Son of Kong (1933) is also newly available — in fact all three of these flicks are available together as a box set — but, I dunno, is probably of purchase-interest mainly to completists. As the release date shows, it was rushed into production (on the cheap) after the blockbuster success of “daddy” Kong and, alas, it shows. Its 75 minute running time barely merits the term “feature film,” the effects are good (once they finally show up) but not quite up to snuff, and the matte work is much simpler — when stop-mo is combined with live action, it gets its own section of the frame, with none of the combining and overlaying from the original Kong. The script is an embarrassment, going for cornball and lame ethnic humor rather than, um, pretty much anything else. Finally, the DVD print includes obvious jump cuts and gaping continuity holes suggesting, at best, that whole sequences are missing or, at worst, the poor thing was butchered in the cradle by the cigar chompers at RKO. One imagines the talented Willis O’Brien cringing in embarrassment and frustration even now, from beyond the grave.

Council of Europe Report on US-Sponsored Secret ‘Detentions’ in Europe

Read the official full text of the Jan. 22, 2006 preliminary report by Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty, Alleged secret detentions in Council of Europe member states, which is also archived at Cryptome.

The “information memorandum” is part of an ongoing investigation that US-based Human Rights Watch is publicly calling on member European nations to cooperate with. (A worthwhile visit is HRW’s index of their recent work viz. Torture and Abuse.)

The report was released simultaneously with this article in New Statesman magazine (also covered in the Guardian (UK) newspaper) revealing a leaked British government memo formulating what the Guardian calls a “hidden strategy aimed at suppressing a debate about rendition” intended to “stifle attempts by MPs to find out what it knows about CIA ‘torture flights’” even as the Foreign Ministry “privately admits that people captured by British forces could have been sent illegally to interrogation centres.” The memo was written in response to a request from Prime Minister Blair’s office on advice on how to deal with the scandal and, in particular, mounting evidence that the British government was a knowing participant in the secret US program of “extraordinary rendition.” (Hanah Arendt on the role of euphemism in fascism, anyone?)

‘Course, those of us who remember the ’80s — and were paying any attention at all at the time — remember another euphemism: disappearances. I’m just sayin’.

Banned in China

The year brought the new site Cryptome.CN which “publishes information, documents and opinions banned by the People’s Republic of China and ‘rogue nations’.”  (Just in time for Google’s decision to censor search results for its new Google China service.)
As should be obvious, the new site is a sister site to Cryptome.org, a treasure-trove of documents, articles, and whatnot related to government secrecy, cryptography, and covert shennanegans of all sorts.

Newly Declassified NSA Docs Confirm Gulf of Tonkin Fraud

On December 1, 2005, the National Security Agency (NSA) declassified a batch of 140 top secret documents related to the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964.

In case you had forgotten, it was this incident that directly prompted the US Congress to pass the so-called Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, granting President Lyndon Johnson the authority to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” and “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force” until “the peace and security of the area is reasonably assured”.

Put simply, this was the allegedly unprovoked attack on US ships that formally started the Vietnam War. To be sure, the US had been militarily involved in Vietnam well before, beginning during the Kennedy Administration, but it was the Gulf of Tonkin that triggered the full-scale war that effectively torpedoed two presidents in a row.

(Other declassified US documents irrutably show — Oliver Stone naysayers notwithstanding — that, at the end of this life, JFK was in fact beginning a significant draw-down of forces and “advisors” in Vietnam. Within just a few days of his assassination, his secret orders were countermanded. In fact, the key document in question, in its declassified version, is covered with handwritten notes, crossed-out phrases, and even a section of retyped text stapled over the original text. I have at least skimmed over microfiche copies of declassified National Security Decision Directives and their equivalents from every administration from Truman through Bush I; this is the only document ever released to be given this treatment. ..and yes, I have to photocopies to prove it. But I digress!)

The entire national tragedy of the Vietnam War thus pivots on the Gulf of Tonkin and what did or did not happen there in the first week of August, 1964. Central to the American causus belli was a purported second attack on US ships on August 4. The ships in question were spy ships run by the National Security Agency. There have been persistent allegations, beginning just a few weeks after, that something was fishy about the attacks, that perhaps things may have been exaggerated in order to provide the US government with the perfect rationale for full scale war.

In the intervening decades, evidence to that effect has mounted. This latest declassification — prised from the most reluctant maw of the NSA — pretty much closes the case for all but the most staunchly dissociative.

To wit: an article by historian Robert J. Hanyok published in a 2001 issue of the NSA’s secret internal journal, Cryptologic Quarterly. As explained by the National Security Archive (a private and completely unrelated non-profit operation) [with bold emphases added here by me]:

Hanyok’s article, “Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964″ [...] provides a comprehensive SIGINT-based account “of what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin.” Using this evidence, Hanyok argues that the SIGINT [signals intelligence -- i.e. electronic intercepts] confirms that North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a U.S. destroyer, the USS Maddox, on August 2, 1964, although under questionable circumstances. The SIGINT also shows, according to Hanyok, that a second attack, on August 4, 1964, by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on U.S. ships, did not occur despite claims to the contrary by the Johnson administration. President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara treated Agency SIGINT reports as vital evidence of a second attack and used this claim to support retaliatory air strikes and to buttress the administration’s request for a Congressional resolution that would give the White House freedom of action in Vietnam.

Hanyok further argues that Agency officials had “mishandled” SIGINT concerning the events of August 4 and provided top level officials with “skewed” intelligence supporting claims of an August 4 attack. “The overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack occurred.” Key pieces of evidence are missing from the Agency’s archives, such as the original decrypted Vietnamese text of a document that played an important role in the White House’s case. Hanyok has not found a “smoking gun” to demonstrate a cover-up but believes that the evidence suggests “an active effort to make SIGINT fit the claim of what happened during the evening of 4 August in the Gulf of Tonkin.” Senior officials at the Agency, the Pentagon, and the White House were none the wiser about the gaps in the intelligence. Hanyok’s conclusions have sparked controversy among old Agency hands but his research confirms the insight of journalist I.F. Stone, who questioned the second attack only weeks after the events. Hanyok’s article is part of a larger study on the National Security Agency and the Vietnam War, “Spartans in Darkness,” which is the subject of a pending FOIA request by the National Security Archive.

On a related note, here is a 2004 analysis by Walter Cronkite for NPR about the Gulf of Tonkin incident through the lens of the intervening 40 years and, apparently, some previously undisclosed insider knowledge ol’ Walt had at the time.