12/30/2005

Blogging the Evidence

Numerous bloggers in the UK have been courting arrest - and breaking that country's wall of silence - by mass publishing the leaked US/UK/Uzbekistan Torture Memos.

The memos, which outline the rendition and torture of US-arrested prisoners in Uzbekistan, come from the correspondences of former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray.

Here are some of the most compelling sections of Murray's memo:

1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get theUzbek government to stop torture they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results.

3. We should cease all co-operation with the Uzbek Security Services they are beyond the pale. We indeed need to establish an SIS presence here, but not as in a friendly state.

10. I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact.

18. It seems to me that there are degrees of complicity and guilt, but being at one or two removes does not make us blameless. There are other factors. Plainly it was a breach of Article 3 of the Convention for the coalition to deport detainees back here from Baghram, but it has been done. That seems plainly complicit.

12/29/2005

Tap, Tap, Tap...

In 2004, there were 347 wire-tap orders authorized in New York state, which constitutes the majority of orders authorized for individual states in the U.S. during that period. (California was 2nd with 180 and New Jersey was 3rd with 144. And there were 730 orders authorized for the federal jurisdiction.) Thanks to Mark Schaver's Depth Reporting blog for pointing me in the right direction with this info.

In New York, those numbers represent a 6% increase compared to the orders issued in 2003. (For the federal jurisdiction, they represent a 26% increase.)

To obtain those orders, authorities cited New York state's Criminal Procedure Law Article 700 (which establishes stringent requirements for the issuance of eavesdropping and video surveillance warrants).

What do those numbers mean? In New York, the numbers are broken down by county but what stands out is the increase in people intercepted by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office (1,108 in 2004, almost triple the number in 2003). By comparison, the number of people intercepted by the NY Organized Crime Task Force fell from 1,821 to only 213. (Hey, with all these mobsters like Bonnano boss Joseph Massino getting busted in 2003, whaddya expect?)

Meanwhile, Spitzer's orders keep getting more expensive. The sole order authorized in 2004 cost $1 million compared to the $334,000 per-order cost of the three orders authorized in 2003.

Now, what type of surveillance are we talking about? Overwhelmingly, most of it was wire (telephone, cellphone) compared to oral (such as microphone eavesdrop) and electronic (computer, fax, pager). This may be the Age of the Internet but the number of electronic intercepts actually fell by half over the two years.

So, watch what you say... and keep typing.

This Just In...

At this very moment, it's possible we're being monitored
It turns out that until Tuesday (12/27/05), the NSA installed permanent cookies on the computers of Internet users who visited the NSA's Website. (By coincidence, we were there on Tuesday, which means that we just made it into the club.) And these were persistent cookies - they didn't expire until 2035 whereas most cookies are automatically deleted when surfers close their browsers. An NSA spokesman said that it was a mistake and that they disabled the cookies as soon as they were notified.
Yahoo

So, where's our check?
The Pentagon has been paying journalists to contribute pro-U.S. articles and stories to Websites that they've set up to target browsers in the Balkans and parts of North Africa (Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mauritania and Morocco). Now, an internal review has determined that the propagandistic sites are perfectly legal. This comes on top of last month's revelation that the Pentagon has been paying Lincoln Group, a private contractor, to plant positive stories written by U.S. troops in Iraqi newspapers.
Los Angeles Times

You don't know Jack... until now
"The biggest congressional corruption scandal in generations" is how The Washington Post is referring to the Jack Abramoff affair. The 47-year-old lobbyist received millions from Indian tribes, which he used to fly Congressmen on golf trips to Scotland, and to secure box seats at football games and concert tickets for them among other things. After returning $150,000 in contributions he'd received over the years from Abramoff, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), head of the Senate Appropriations panel's Interior subcommittee, thundered: "I hope he goes to jail and we never see him again. I wish he'd never been born, to be right honest with you."

Some highlights:

- Along with disgraced Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, Abramoff organized a "convention" of anticommunist guerrillas from Laos, Nicaragua and Afghanistan in a remote part of Angola. (But even among friends, Abramoff got into trouble and he was fired after a dispute over the handling of the $3 million budget).

- During the 1980s, Abramoff assisted the apartheid South African government, which secretly paid $1.5 million a year to the International Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit group that Abramoff operated out of a townhouse in the 1980s, according to sworn testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Abramoff reportedly used South African soldiers while filming the anti-communist movie, "Red Scorpion," which he produced in 1989.


- Abramoff liked to mimic Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" during a scene when the mobster rejects a crooked politician's demand for a cut of the action: "Senator, you can have my answer now if you like. My offer is this: nothing."

12/28/2005

It's Hell Below

Yesterday's New York Times story on Freeport-McMoran was one of the best investigative feature stories I've read in a long time.

Devastating in its simple recitation of the facts, the piece exposed the mining company's complicity with Indonesia's military (whose human rights record is so poor that the U.S. government stopped dealing with them for 12 years) to protect its operations in that country. In addition to making payoffs to individual generals and colonels, Freeport-McMoran also reportedly spied on its environmental critics, who have denounced the mine's ruinous impact on the country's forests and rivers.

It's also worth checking out a Q&A with the story's authors, Jane Perlez and Kirk Johnson. The piece is part of their series on gold mining around the world and its impact on communities, the environment and the global economy.

Since the 1998 election cycle, Freeport McMoran has contributed $195,000 to Republican congressional committees and $27,635 to Democratic congressional committees. And Chairman James R. Moffett, whose total compensation in 2004 was $9.5 million, gave a few thousand dollars to the Bush campaign in 2004.

12/27/2005

It's Nice to Know...

that the NSA is looking out for our 4th Amendment protections.

As quoted on their Website:

"Americans expect NSA to conduct its missions within the law. But given the inherently secret nature of those missions, how can Americans be sure that the Agency does not invade their privacy? The 4th Amendment of the Constitution demands it... oversight committees within all three branches of the U.S. government ensure it... and NSA employees, as U.S. citizens, have a vested interest in upholding it. Respecting the law is only a part of gaining Americans' trust."

12/22/2005

Striking Reality

As the trains get ready to roll again (and our feet finish thawing out from this morning's 1.5 hour hike from Brooklyn), it's a good time to reflect on the true stories behind the 2005 NYC transit strike.

Sure, we're all a little annoyed at the transit workers (retiring at 55 with a pension is a distant fantasy for most of us) after a few days of enduring frigid temperatures and commuter chaos. And plenty of us are all too familiar with scenes like this:



But let's not forget that we're talking about the MTA, one of the most mismanaged agencies in the state (i.e. getting screwed out of tens of millions of $ by mobbed-up contractors for the work on their headquarters building at 2 Broadway back in 2002. Projected cost: $140 million, Actual cost: $845 million).

Here's another example:

The MTA is paying a few consultants over $500 an hour apiece to provide advice to their human resources department, according to MTA documents reviewed by The Investigators.

As of March 2004 (through February 2007), the MTA has a $303,000 contract with Hay Group, a Philadelphia-based consulting firm. These are the billing rates for some of Hay Group's staffers - S. Nissenfeld: $550/hour, H. Resnick $525-595/hour, R. Porter: $500-540/hour. These expenditures don't include out-of-pocket expenses such as traveling expenses, office supplies, computer services, etc.

Here's some suggested HR advice: Fire the consultants!

No wonder union members are aggravated - the MTA has been using private contractors (some of whom don't work for the Mob) for years. And some of these firms don't treat their workers too well.

Let's take a look at some of them. Darcon Construction Corp. has been cited for OSHA violations (that's the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Another firm, Rotondo Contracting, was penalized by the Department of Labor in 2000 for not paying overtime to their workers. And in June 2004, one worker was killed and two injured when a six-foot foundation collapsed at one of Rotondo's construction sites in Queens.

Welcome


Welcome to our first, fumbling effort to put together a blog.

Expect plenty of remodeling in the next few months.

Over a few Irish coffees, I'll come up with a better motto but for now:

This blog will be devoted to investigative journalism - our team consists of an investigator and an ink-stained wretch who are disgusted with the quality of most mainstream journalism.

We're dedicated to breaking news in all areas - from international politics to New York community concerns, from the fashion runway to the corporate boardroom.

Feel free to join us in the hunt for scoops by supplying us with plenty of your own...