House Democrats To Obama: ‘Secret Law Is A Threat To Democracy’

Joining forces with a group of privacy organizations and former White House officials, four House Democrats sent a letter to President Barack Obama over the weekend urging him to declassify all legal opinions and interpretations involving a controversial executive order used to justify government surveillance.

Reps. John Conyers (Mich.), Alan Grayson (Fla.), Rush Holt (N.J.) and Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) contend in the letter that Obama should work to enhance privacy protection damaged by Executive Order 12333, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan to expand the government’s data-collection authority and later amended by President George W. Bush.

“We call on the President to declassify and make public all current and future legal opinions or interpretations concerning surveillance under Executive Order 12333 and the surveillance-related regulations issued thereunder,” the letter states. “Secret law is a threat to democracy.

“We further call on the President to ensure that there is no disproportionate or unnecessary collection or retention of users’ communications and personal information and to implement meaningful privacy protections for all users, U.S. and foreign, in surveillance activities conducted under E.O. 12333, including the privacy recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.”

Executive Order 12333 gives the National Security Agency the power to sweep up emails, online messages and other digital communications from people abroad. While the presidential order isn’t intended to authorize domestic surveillance, American citizens’ communications can be “incidentally” obtained (and possibly stored for later use) as agents investigate people outside of the country.

John Tye, a former State Department official who also signed the letter, explained the potential for 12333 abuses thusly in a recent interview with Ars Technica: “In theory the NSA could have a single legitimate foreign target that’s using Gmail, Yahoo, Dropbox, iMessage, Skype—and ‘incidental collection’ means that could mean that every person’s data from all of those services is swept up and stored—billions of people. I know that sounds crazy but that’s how the executive order works. The targeting is not a meaningful constraint on NSA collection.”

Do U.S. Policies On Travel Make ISIS Infiltration A Major Threat?

In a disturbing continuance of some federal officials’ refusal to believe that the Islamic State terrorists are bent on establishing a caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria, State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Jen Psaki refused Tuesday to say whether the passports of Americans confirmed to be fighting alongside the terrorists had been revoked.

Last week, reports emerged that government officials are aware of as many as 300 people with U.S. passports who could be fighting under the ISIS flag in Iraq and Syria.

“We know that there are several hundred American passport holders running around with ISIS in Syria or Iraq,” an unidentified senior U.S. official told the Washington Times. “It’s hard to tell whether or not they’re in Syria or moved to Iraq.”

Concerns about American citizens being radicalized by ISIS were inflamed on the heels of reports that American citizens have been identified among ISIS fighters killed in the Middle East.

Even as the threat of radicalized Americans traveling freely appears very real, the State Department officials can’t seem to decide one way or another (or at least they won’t say if they have) if ISIS is a threat to the U.S. homeland.

On Tuesday, State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Jen Psaki refused to tell reporters whether the passports of Americans known to be fighting with ISIS terrorists had been revoked.

Last week, Psaki claimed that her agency has made a top priority of dealing with ISIS-affiliated individuals “who have Western passports, who are able to gain access whether it’s the United States or other allies in western Europe.”

This week, however, Psaki informed reporters that keeping U.S. passport holders with known ties to ISIS out of the country is not simple as it sounds because of legal requirements mandating that the passports be revoked on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s not as black and white as that,” Psaki said when asked if passports of ISIS cohorts had been revoked. “We [State Department] can revoke passports for a number of reasons.”

If Psaki is correct about one thing, it’s that current U.S. policies involving passports and visas make understanding the full-scale threat of ISIS infiltration of the U.S. very difficult.

Visa waiver programs that make it easy for people with passports from 38 different Western nations to travel to the U.S. could make it much easier for ISIS to operate in the country undetected. During a recent interview on CNN, House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said that as many as 3,000 ISIS members could currently hold qualifying passports.

“The numbers vary,” Thornberry continued. “I don’t know the exact number, 2,000 to 3,000, say, have Western passports. It only takes a handful, as we saw on 9/11, to do enormous damage.”

Last week, Representative Mike Rodgers (R-Mich.) similarly warned that ISIS militants are “one plane ticket away from U.S. shores.”

“One of the problems is it’s going unabated for nearly two years, and that draws people from Britain, across Europe, even the United States to go and join the fight,” Rogers said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Unfortunately, even if the State Department were able to say definitively whether it had revoked potential terrorists’ passports and closed visa loopholes, the U.S. would likely remain vulnerable due to complacency at other levels of government.

ABC reported Tuesday that the Department of Homeland Security has lost track of more than 6,000 foreign nationals who entered the nation on student visas.

From the report:

ABC News found that immigration officials have struggled to keep track of the rapidly increasing numbers of foreign students coming to the U.S. — now in excess of one million each year. The immigration agency’s own figures show that 58,000 students overstayed their visas in the past year. Of those, 6,000 were referred to agents for follow-up because they were determined to be of heightened concern.

“They just disappear,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “They get the visas and they disappear.”

Coburn said since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, 26 student visa holders have been arrested in the U.S. on terror-related charges.

Tightening up the student visa program was one of the major recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, after it was determined that the hijacker who flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, had entered the U.S. on a student visa but never showed up for school.

That, coupled with lax immigration policies along the U.S.’s southern border has led some observers to conclude that a terror attack on scale with the 9/11 tragedy is imminent.

Majority Of Voters Wish Obama Had A Plan To Neutralize ISIS

A majority of voters believe that the Islamic State terror group poses a significant threat to the U.S. and, though reluctant to commit troops to the Middle East, are concerned that President Barack Obama has yet to formulate a comprehensive response to the jihadists recent gains in the region.

Asked during a press briefing last week how he intended to deal with ISIS advances in Syria, Obama responded, “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.”

The president’s nonchalance about the ISIS threat, according to new polling data out from Rasmussen, is a concern for many Americans. Sixty-seven percent of likely U.S. voters polled expressed concerns that the Islamic State directly threatens the U.S., compare to just 13 percent who remain unworried about the terror group.

And while just 30 percent of respondents supported the idea of putting U.S. boots on the ground in the Middle East to deal with ISIS, 73 percent said they are worried that the president has yet to present an ISIS response plan to the American people.

Broken down along party lines, Rasmussen reports “just 52% of Democrats consider ISIS a serious threat to the United States, compared to 82% of Republicans and 70% of voters not affiliated with either major party.”

Tellingly, there is also a disconnect between average voters’ feelings about the president’s handling of ISIS and views held among members of the political class.

“Sixty-four percent (64%) of the Political Class think the administration has done a good or excellent job responding to the threat from ISIS,” Rasmussen reports. “Fifty-three percent (53%) of Mainstream voters rate the administration’s performance in this area as poor.

“Fifty-four percent (54%) of voters who consider ISIS a serious threat to the United States believe the administration has done a poor job. By a 40% to 33% margin, these voters favor sending U.S. troops to Iraq.”

Two weeks after alleged footage of Islamic State militants beheading American journalist James Foley surfaced a video purporting to show the execution of American freelance journalist Steven Sotloff has emerged. The second video of ISIS murdering a U.S. citizen has prompted calls from U.S. lawmakers for the president to take swift and decisive actions to eliminate the terror group.

“Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty,” said a statement from Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

According To The Federal Government, There’s No Such Thing As Islamist Terrorism

As violent Islamic extremists in the Middle East vow to bring bloodshed to the U.S. homeland, the federal government continues its politically correct willful ignorance of the threat radical Islam poses to the well-being of American citizens.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his country raised its terror threat level to “severe,” its second-highest spot, because of the ISIS terror threat.

“The ambition to create an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and Syria is a threat to our own security here in the UK,” he said.

Cameron also spoke of the challenges related to responding to a terrorist threat rooted in religious extremism.

“This threat cannot be solved simply by dealing with perceived grievances over Western foreign policy,” he said. “Nor can it be dealt with by addressing poverty, dictatorship or instability in the region — as important as these things are.

“The root cause of this threat to our security is quite clear. It is a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that is condemned by all faiths and faith leaders.”

The British actions and willingness to admit that Islamic extremism is a major threat contrast sharply with the stance that American officials have taken in conversations about ISIS.

Last week, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that there was no indication that ISIS is plotting attacks against the U.S.

“I can tell you with great clarity and certainty that if that threat existed inside of Syria that it would certainly be my strong recommendation that we would deal with it,” he said. “I have every confidence that the president of the United States would deal with it.”

Officials at the U.S. State Department have taken a similar stance, claiming that there was no indication that ISIS is religiously motivated or bent on attacking the U.S.

“This is not about [ISIS] versus the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “They are killing anyone who gets in their way: Sunnis, Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Iraqis, Syrians, anyone who gets in their way — and now an American.”

“So this is not about what the United States is or isn’t doing,” Harf continued. “This is about [ISIS] stated a commitment to murder, rape, enslave people who don’t agree with their ideology and who get in their way.”

She later added, “[T]hey can say whatever they’d like, but what I am making clear is that’s not what [ISIS] represents. And they don’t represent any religion. They are at war with everybody they come into contact with.”

Sunday News Show Roundup

Sunday’s political talk shows were dominated by talk of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror organization which is continuing to gain ground in the Middle East.

During an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Representative Peter King (R-NY) decried the White House’s Friday announcement that the U.S. will not follow Britain’s lead in considering ISIS a direct threat to the homeland.

“We have to face it as much as the British do,” King said, noting that there are potentially thousands of people who have the ability to travel freely to Western countries fighting alongside ISIS.

King said that President Barack Obama should order airstrikes in Syria as soon as possible in order to eliminate the ISIS threat.

“The longer we wait, the more dangerous [ISIS becomes],” King said.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), a top member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that the U.S. must be careful to avoid sending the message that the nation is siding with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is also currently working to beat back the ISIS threat.

“We don’t want to come into Syria now on the side of Assad,” Smith said.

The lawmaker added that the U.S. “can’t simply bomb first and ask questions later” because military action could inadvertently drive more recruits “into the arms of ISIS.”

House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rodgers, a Michigan Republican, told “Fox News Sunday” that the growing ISIS threat is a direct result of the Obama Administration’s ongoing foreign policy failures.

“We find it consistent with his past policy and actions on foreign policy,” Rogers told host Chris Wallace. “It shows and I think exemplifies that his foreign policy is in freefall.”

Rodgers added that Obama’s actions are causing traditional U.S. allies to lose faith in the nation’s power to influence international policy.

“Our traditional allies are now standing up saying ‘well, maybe America is not the best force to lead us through these troubles,’ ” Rogers said.

On “Face the Nation,” Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) expressed a similar sentiment, saying that Obama is “either in denial or overwhelmed” by the ISIS threat coupled with Russian aggression in Ukraine.

McCain said that the president must adopt a strategy to defeat ISIS rather than containing the militant group.

The lawmaker added that Obama could have averted the ISIS gains by providing Syrian rebels with weapons last year.

“That was a seminal moment,” McCain said of Obama’s decision not to arm the rebels.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, shared a similarly critical view of Obama’s response to the ISIS threat, calling his actions “too cautious.”

“[T]here is good reason for people to come together now and begin to approach this as a very real threat, that it in fact is,” she said.

The longtime lawmaker said that ISIS stands out as a particularly dangerous non-state actor because of its ability to raise funds.

ISIS is “really the first group that has the wherewithal in terms of financing, the fighting machine in terms of a structure — a heavy equipment, heavy explosives, the ability to move quickly,” she said.

Reports: Terror Attack From Southern Border ‘Imminent’

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch issued a statement Friday, claiming that government sources have confirmed that Islamic State terrorists are operating in Mexico and planning terror attacks on the U.S.

Via Judicial Watch:

Islamic terrorist groups are operating in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez and planning to attack the United States with car bombs or other vehicle born improvised explosive devices (VBIED). High-level federal law enforcement, intelligence and other sources have confirmed to Judicial Watch that a warning bulletin for an imminent terrorist attack on the border has been issued. Agents across a number of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense agencies have all been placed on alert and instructed to aggressively work all possible leads and sources concerning this imminent terrorist threat.

Specifically, Judicial Watch sources reveal that the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is confirmed to now be operating in Juarez, a famously crime-infested narcotics hotbed situated across from El Paso, Texas. Violent crimes are so rampant in Juarez that the U.S. State Department has issued a number of travel warnings for anyone planning to go there. The last one was issued just a few days ago.

Read the full statement here.

Fox News reports that it has obtained a three page law enforcement bulletin released Thursday, entitled “ISIS Interest on the US Southwest Border,” which notes that ISIS militants are aware of the U.S.’s lax border security.

“A review of ISIS social media messaging during the week ending August 26 shows that militants are expressing an increased interest in the notion that they could clandestinely infiltrate the southwest border of US, for terror attack,” the document says, according to Fox.

“Social media account holders believed to be ISIS militants and propagandists have called for unspecified border operations, or they have sought to raise awareness that illegal entry through Mexico is a viable option,” it continues.

 

A Tale Of Two Leaders: ‘Don’t Have A Strategy’ And ‘Poisonous Ideology Of Islamist Extremism’ Threatens All… Guess Which One Isn’t An Obama Quote

Following President Barack Obama’s brazen announcement that his administration has yet to come up with a strategy to respond to the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists gaining ground in the Middle East, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the ISIS gains a “greater and deeper threat to security than we have known” in an address to his countrymen.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse: we don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said of how the U.S. would respond to ISIS advances in Syria. “I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggest that folks are getting a little further ahead of what we’re at than what we currently are.”

The statement quickly caused a political uproar.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday urged the president to “exercise some leadership” and present a regional strategy to Congress.

“The President needs to present this plan to the Congress, and the American people, and where the President believes he lacks authority to execute such a strategy, he needs to explain to the Congress how additional authority for the use of force will protect America,” McConnell said in a statement.

Others took the president to task on social media.

The White House has since been engaged in damage control, with press secretary Josh Earnest claiming that the White House does have a broad “comprehensive strategy” for fighting ISIS, just not Syria-specific plans.

“The reason for that is simply that the Pentagon is still developing that plan and (Obama) is still reviewing it,” Earnest said Friday.

Meanwhile, Britain’s prime minister said that the ISIS advances are a direct threat to UK and other western countries.

“The ambition to create an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and Syria is a threat to our own security here in the UK,” he said.

Cameron announced that his country raised its terror threat level to “severe,” its second highest spot.

The British actions contrast sharply with the stance that American officials have taken with regard to the ISIS threat. Earlier this week, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that there was no indication that ISIS is plotting attacks against the U.S.

“I can tell you with great clarity and certainty that if that threat existed inside of Syria that it would certainly be my strong recommendation that we would deal with it,” he said. “I have every confidence that the president of the United States would deal with it.”

Officials at the U.S. State Department have taken a similar stance, claiming that there was no indication that ISIS—a group bent on forming an Islamic caliphate— is religiously motivated or bent on attacking the U.S.

“This is not about [ISIS] versus the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “They are killing anyone who gets in their way: Sunnis, Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Iraqis, Syrians, anyone who gets in their way — and now an American.”

“So this is not about what the United States is or isn’t doing,” Harf continued. “This is about [ISIS] stated a commitment to murder, rape, enslave people who don’t agree with their ideology and who get in their way.”

She later added, “[T]hey can say whatever they’d like, but what I am making clear is that’s not what ISIL represents. And they don’t represent any religion. They are at war with everybody they come into contact with.”

Compare that with what Cameron said Friday: “The terrorist threat was not created by the Iraq war 10 years ago. It existed even before the horrific attacks on 9/11, themselves some time before the war.

“This threat cannot be solved simply by dealing with perceived grievances over Western foreign policy,” he added. “Nor can it be dealt with by addressing poverty, dictatorship or instability in the region – as important as these things are.

“The root cause of this threat to our security is quite clear. It is a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that is condemned by all faiths and faith leaders.”

Someone is getting it wrong— and we’re guessing it’s the guy whose administration hasn’t come to terms with the fact that radical Islam breeds terrorists and hasn’t worried over a strategy to stop them.

UPDATE: Reports: Terror Attack From Southern Border ‘Imminent’

Police Lobby Gears Up To Protect Militarization Of Law Enforcement

As the Department of Justice faces increasing pressure to examine the militarization of American law enforcement agencies, police associations have kicked off lobbying efforts aimed at keeping intact the Pentagon program that allows police to acquire military gear.

This week a group of politicians, community leaders and celebrities joined the community-empowerment group Center for Global Policy Solutions to pen a letter to President Obama asking how the federal government intends to change policing policies after the heavy-handed response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

The letter urges officials to address police race relations as well as departments’ increasing militarization. It calls on the Obama Administration to encourage increases in law enforcement training, accountability and diversity, along with the suspension of Pentagon programs “that transfer military equipment into the hands of local police departments.”

From the letter:

Investigations into the Ferguson shooting are ongoing, and many of the specific facts remain unclear for now. However, the pattern is too obvious to be a coincidence and too frequent to be a mistake. From policing to adjudication and incarceration, it is time for the country to counter the effects of systemic racial bias, which impairs the perceptions, judgment, and behavior of too many of our law enforcement personnel and obstructs the ability of our police departments and criminal justice institutions to protect and serve all communities in a fair and just manner.

In addition, the militarization of police departments across the country is creating conditions that will further erode the trust that should exist between residents and the police who serve them. The proliferation of machine guns, silencers, armored vehicles and aircraft, and camouflage in local law enforcement units does not bode well for police-community relations, the future of our cities, or our country.

And surely neither systemic racial bias nor police department militarization serves the interests of the countless police officers who bravely place their lives at risk every day.

“We’re at our zero moment as a nation,” Center for Global Policy Solutions CEO Maya Rockeymoore said of the effort. “If we continue to let this go unaddressed, we’re going to have Fergusons springing up all across the country.”

Meanwhile, with regard to calls for police demilitarization, police lobbying groups are vocally calling on government officials to leave law enforcement’s military toys alone.

Last week, the National Tactical Officers Association shot off more than a thousand emails to Capitol Hill staffers urging them to encourage lawmakers to protect the Pentagon’s 1033 program.

“The police have to be one step ahead of the criminal element, have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. You don’t want a community to be taken over by one or many criminals,” NTOA Executive Director Mark Lomax told the The Daily Beast of the effort. “We’re definitely for equipping our law enforcement officials out there properly, with proper training and proper policies.”

The nation’s largest police organization, the Fraternal Order of Police, is also making its presence known at the Capitol by meeting with lawmakers ahead of Congress’s return from its August recess.

According to reports, the police groups are concerned that some lawmakers could use a September stopgap funding bill needed to prevent government shutdown to halt military equipment transfers to law enforcement.

Personal Liberty Digest™ P.M. Edition 8-28-2014

Brush up on the day’s headlines with Personal Liberty’s P.M. Edition news links.

Rand Paul: Hillary Clinton Is A Warmonger Who Would Get Clobbered In 2016

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) this week blasted former Secretary of State— and potential 2016 presidential contender— Hillary Clinton and other “U.S. interventionists” he says are responsible for empowering the Islamic State terror group’s advances in the Middle East. More… 

Obama: ‘We Don’t Have A Strategy Yet’ To Move On The Islamic State

White House staffers had a major cleanup job on their hands after President Obama got done with his statement on a pair of global crises today. More… 

Have You Heard About The Pentagon’s ‘Everything Must Go’ Sale?

Reason’s Will Neff and Paul Detrick have teamed up to produce a satirical television commercial that reveals the absurdity of the military-to-police equipment pipeline created by the Defense Department’s 1033 program. Video… 

Federal Debt Has Doubled Since 2007

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an update to its ten-year budget and economic outlook report Wednesday. It begins by touting the ongoing reduction in the federal budget deficit – that is, in the simplest terms, the amount of money the government is spending each year beyond what Congress budgeted for that year. More… 

Pessimism Rocks America’s Post-Recession Workplace

If a sampling of Americans is correct, the U.S. economy and workplace was forever changed — for the worse — by the Great Recession. More… 

Rand Paul: Hillary Clinton Is A Warmonger Who Would Get Clobbered In 2016

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) this week blasted former Secretary of State— and potential 2016 presidential contender— Hillary Clinton and other “U.S. interventionists” he says are responsible for empowering the Islamic State terror group’s advances in the Middle East.

“As the murderous, terrorist Islamic State continues to threaten Iraq, the region and potentially the United States, it is vitally important that we examine how this problem arose,” Paul begins a Wall Street Journal op-ed published late Wednesday. “Any actions we take today must be informed by what we’ve already done in the past, and how effective our actions have been.

“Shooting first and asking questions later has never been a good foreign policy. The past year has been a perfect example,” the senator continues.

Shooting first, Paul contends, is precisely what Clinton and the Obama Administration did last year by advocating for regime change in Syria without “a reasonable degree of foresight.”

“The administration’s goal has been to degrade Assad’s power, forcing him to negotiate with the rebels,” Paul writes. “But degrading Assad’s military capacity also degrades his ability to fend off the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Assad’s government recently bombed the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.

“To interventionists like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we would caution that arming the Islamic rebels in Syria created a haven for the Islamic State. We are lucky Mrs. Clinton didn’t get her way and the Obama administration did not bring about regime change in Syria. That new regime might well be ISIS,” the lawmaker contends.

Clinton is of the opposite opinion, as we noted earlier this month:

Clinton blamed Obama for the ISIS advances in a recent interview with The Atlantic.

According to the former top diplomat, the Administration could have made it more difficult for ISIS to gain support throughout the Middle East by doing more to support rebels in Syria when that country was initially besieged by civil war.

“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton said.

This isn’t the first time that Paul, steadfast in his non-interventionist views despite pressure from his own party, has criticized the current Democratic administration’s foreign policy practices. And the lawmaker believes that the country is on his side.

Here’s what the senator had to say about Clinton on MSNBC over the weekend: “I think the American public is coming more and more to where I am… Hillary Clinton, who… fought her own war, Hillary’s War, you know… I think that’s what scares the Democrats the most, is that in a general election, were I to run, there’s gonna be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, ‘You know what, we are tired of war. We’re worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she’s so gung-ho.’

“If you wanna see a transformational election in our country, let the Democrats put forward a war hawk like Hillary Clinton, and you’ll see a transformation like you’ve never seen,” Paul opined.