Monday, January 02, 2006

spies like us

Posted on Mon, Nov. 07, 2005

Connecticut case exposes Patriot Act
In the hunt for terrorists, FBI probes private lives
By Barton Gellman
Washington Post



WASHINGTON – The FBI came calling in Windsor, Conn., this summer with a document marked for delivery by hand. On Matianuk Avenue, across from the tennis courts, two special agents found their man. They gave George Christian the letter, which warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Under the shield and stars of the FBI crest, the letter directed Christian to surrender “all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person” who used a specific computer at a library branch some distance away. Christian, who manages digital records for three dozen Connecticut libraries, said in an affidavit that he configures his system for privacy. But the vendors of the software he operates said their databases can reveal the Web sites that visitors browse, the e-mail accounts they open and the books they borrow.

Christian refused to hand over those records, and his employer, Library Connection Inc., filed suit for the right to protest the FBI demand in public. The Washington Post established their identities – still under seal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit – by comparing unsealed portions of the file with public records and information gleaned from people who had no knowledge of the FBI demand.

The Connecticut case affords a rare glimpse of an exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance under the USA Patriot Act, which marked its fourth anniversary Oct. 26. “National security letters,” created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters – one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people – are extending the bureau’s reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks – and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond.

In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for “state, local and tribal” governments and for “appropriate private sector entities,” which are not defined.

National security letters offer a case study of the effect of the Patriot Act outside the spotlight of political debate. Drafted in haste after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the law’s 132 pages wrought scores of changes in the landscape of intelligence and law enforcement. Many received far more attention than the amendments to a seemingly pedestrian power to review “transactional records.” But few other provisions touch as many ordinary Americans without their knowledge.

Senior FBI officials acknowledge that the proliferation of national security letters results primarily from the bureau’s new authority to collect intimate facts about people who are not suspected of wrongdoing. Criticized for failure to detect the Sept. 11 plot, the bureau now casts a much wider net, using national security letters to generate leads as well as to pursue them. Casual or unwitting contact with a suspect – a single telephone call, for example – might subject a person to scrutiny about which he never learns.

A national security letter cannot be used to authorize eavesdropping or to read the contents of e-mail. But it does permit investigators to track the private affairs of a modern digital citizen. The records it gathers describe where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work.

As it wrote the Patriot Act four years ago, Congress bought time and leverage for oversight by placing an expiration date on 16 provisions. The changes involving national security letters were not among them. In fact, as the Dec. 31 deadline approaches and Congress prepares to renew or make permanent the expiring provisions, House and Senate conferees are poised again to amplify the FBI’s power to compel the secret production of private records.

The House and Senate have voted to make non-compliance with a national security letter a criminal offense. The House would also impose a prison term for breach of secrecy.

“The beef with the NSLs is that they don’t have even a pretense of judicial or impartial scrutiny,” said former Rep. Robert Barr Jr., R-Ga., who finds himself allied with the American Civil Liberties Union after a career as prosecutor, CIA analyst and conservative GOP stalwart. “There’s no checks and balances whatever on them. It is simply some bureaucrat’s decision that they want information, and they can basically just go and get it.”

New rules

Under the old legal test, the FBI had to have “specific and articulable” reasons to believe the records it gathered in secret belonged to a terrorist or a spy. Now the bureau needs only to certify that the records are “sought for” or “relevant to” an investigation “to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

That standard enables investigators to look for conspirators by sifting the records of anyone who crosses a suspect’s path.

“If you have a list of, say, 20 telephone numbers that have come up ... on a bad guy’s telephone,” said Valerie Caproni, the FBI’s general counsel, “you want to find out who he’s in contact with.” Investigators will say, “ ‘OK, phone company, give us subscriber information and toll records on these 20 telephone numbers,’ and that can easily be 100.”

Bush administration officials compare national security letters to grand jury subpoenas, which are also based on “relevance” to an inquiry. There are differences. Grand juries tend to have a narrower focus because they investigate past conduct, not the speculative threat of unknown future attacks. Recipients of grand jury subpoenas are generally free to discuss the subpoenas publicly. And there are strict limits on sharing grand jury information with government agencies.

Since the Patriot Act, the FBI has dispersed the authority to sign national security letters to more than five dozen supervisors – the special agents in charge of field offices, the deputies in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, and a few senior headquarters officials. FBI rules established after the Patriot Act allow the letters to be issued long before a case is judged substantial enough for a “full field investigation.” Agents commonly use the letters now in preliminary investigations and in the “threat assessments” that precede a decision whether to launch an investigation.

“Congress has given us this tool to obtain basic telephone data, basic banking data, basic credit reports,” said Caproni, who is among those with signature authority. “The fact that a national security letter is a routine tool used, that doesn’t bother me.”

If agents had to wait for grounds to suspect a person of ill intent, said Joseph Billy, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, they would already know what they want to find out with a national security letter. “It’s all chicken and egg,” he said. “We’re trying to determine if someone warrants scrutiny or doesn’t.”

Billy said he understands that “merely being in a government or FBI database ... gives everybody, you know, neck hair standing up.” Innocent Americans, he said, “should take comfort at least knowing that it is done under a great deal of investigative care, oversight, within the parameters of the law.”

“That’s not going to satisfy a majority of people, but ... I’ve had people say, you know, ‘Hey, I don’t care, I’ve done nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “You can have me in your files and that’s that.’ ”

Early caution

In Room 7975 of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the chief of the FBI’s national security law unit sat down at his keyboard about a month after the Patriot Act became law. Michael Woods had helped devise the FBI wish list for surveillance powers. Now he offered a caution.

“NSLs are powerful investigative tools, in that they can compel the production of substantial amounts of relevant information,” he wrote in a Nov. 28, 2001, “electronic communication” to the FBI’s 56 field offices. “However, they must be used judiciously.” Standing guidelines, he wrote, “require that the FBI accomplish its investigations through the ‘least intrusive’ means. ... The greater availability of NSLs does not mean that they should be used in every case.”

Woods, who left government service in 2002, added a practical consideration. Legislators granted the authority and could as easily take it back. When making that decision, he wrote, “Congress certainly will examine the manner in which the FBI exercised it.”

Looking back last month, Woods was struck by how starkly he misjudged the climate. The FBI disregarded his warning, and no one noticed.

“This is not something that should be automatically done because it’s easy,” he said. “We need to be sure ... we don’t go overboard.”

One thing Woods did not anticipate was then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft’s revision of Justice Department guidelines. On May 30, 2002, and Oct. 31, 2003, Ashcroft rewrote the playbooks for investigations of terrorist crimes and national security threats. He gave overriding priority to preventing attacks by any means available.

Ashcroft remained bound by Executive Order 12333, which requires the use of the “least intrusive means” in domestic intelligence investigations. Yet three times, Ashcroft wrote that the FBI “should consider ... less intrusive means” but “should not hesitate to use any lawful techniques ... even if intrusive” when investigators believe them to be more timely. “This point,” he added, “is to be particularly observed in investigations relating to terrorist activities.”

What national security letters give his agents the advantage of speed, said Michael Mason, who runs the Washington field office and has the rank of assistant FBI director.

“I have 675 terrorism cases,” he said. “Every one of these is a potential threat. And anything I can do to get to the bottom of any one of them more quickly gets me closer to neutralizing a potential threat.”Woods, the former FBI lawyer, said secrecy is essential when an investigation begins because “it would defeat the whole purpose” to tip off a suspected terrorist or spy, but national security seldom requires that the secret be kept forever.

Even mobster “John Gotti finds out eventually that he was wiretapped” in a criminal probe, said Peter Swire, the federal government’s chief privacy counselor until 2001. “Anyone caught up in an NSL investigation never gets notice.”

Those who favor the new rules maintain – as Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, put it in a prepared statement – that “there has not been one substantiated allegation of abuse of these lawful intelligence tools.”

What the Bush administration means by abuse is unauthorized use of surveillance data – for example, to blackmail an enemy or track an estranged spouse. Critics are focused elsewhere. What troubles them is not unofficial abuse but the official and routine intrusion into private lives.

To Jeffrey Breinholt, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s counterterrorism section, the civil liberties objections “are eccentric.” Data collection on the innocent, he said, does no harm unless “someone (decides) to act on the information, put you on a no-fly list or something.” Only a serious error, he said, could lead the government, based on nothing more than someone’s bank or phone records, “to freeze your assets or go after you criminally and you suffer consequences that are irreparable.” He added: “It’s a pretty small chance.”

“I don’t necessarily want somebody knowing what videos I rent or the fact that I like cartoons,” said Mason, the Washington field office chief. But if those records “are never used against a person, if they’re never used to put him in jail, or deprive him of a vote, etc., then what is the argument?”

Barr, the former congressman, said that “the abuse is in the power itself.”

“As a conservative,” he said, “I really resent an administration that calls itself conservative taking the position that the burden is on the citizen to show the government has abused power, and otherwise shut up and comply.”

At the ACLU, staff attorney Jameel Jaffer spoke of “the profound chilling effect” of this kind of surveillance: “If the government monitors the Web sites that people visit and the books that they read, people will stop visiting disfavored Web sites and stop reading disfavored books. The FBI should not have unchecked authority to keep track of who visits (al-Jazeera’s Web site) or who visits the Web site of the Federalist Society.”

Looking for links

Two years ago, Ashcroft rescinded a 1995 guideline directing that information obtained through a national security letter about a U.S. citizen or resident “shall be destroyed by the FBI and not further disseminated” if it proves “not relevant to the purposes for which it was collected.” Ashcroft’s new order was that “the FBI shall retain” all records it collects and “may disseminate” them freely among federal agencies.

The same order directed the FBI to develop “data mining” technology to probe for hidden links among the people in its growing cache of electronic files. According to an FBI status report, the bureau’s office of intelligence began operating in January 2004 a new Investigative Data Warehouse, based on the same Oracle technology used by the CIA. The CIA is generally forbidden to keep such files on Americans.

Data mining intensifies the effect of national security letters, because anyone’s personal files can be scrutinized again and again without a fresh need to establish relevance.

“The composite picture of a person which emerges from transactional information is more telling than the direct content of your speech,” said Woods, the former FBI lawyer. “That’s certainly not been lost on the intelligence community and the FBI.”

Ashcroft’s new guidelines allowed the FBI for the first time to add to government files consumer data from commercial providers such as LexisNexis and ChoicePoint Inc. Previous attorneys general had decided that such a move would violate the Privacy Act.

What national security letters add to government data banks is information that no commercial service can lawfully possess. Strict privacy laws, for example, govern financial and communications records. National security letters – along with the more powerful but much less frequently used secret subpoenas from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – override them.

At about the time the FBI found George Christian in Connecticut, agents from the bureau’s Charlotte field office paid an urgent call on the chemical engineering department at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. They were looking for information about a former student named Magdy Nashar, then suspected in the July 7 London subway bombing but since cleared of suspicion.

University officials said in interviews late last month that the FBI tried to use a national security letter to demand more information than the law allows.

David Drooz, the university’s senior associate counsel, said special authority is required for records protected by educational and medical privacy. The FBI’s first request, a July 14 grand jury subpoena, did not appear to supply that authority, Drooz said, and the university did not honor it.

Referring to notes he took that day, Drooz said Eric Davis, the FBI’s top lawyer in Charlotte, “was focused very much on the urgency” and “he even indicated the case was of interest to President Bush.”

The next day, July 15, FBI agents arrived with a national security letter. Drooz said it demanded all records of Nashar’s admission, housing, emergency contacts, use of health services and extracurricular activities. University lawyers “looked up what law we could on the fly,” he said. They discovered that the FBI was demanding files that national security letters have no power to obtain. The statute the FBI cited that day covers only telephone and Internet records.

“We’re very eager to comply with the authorities in this regard, but we needed to have what we felt was a legally valid procedure,” said Larry Neilsen, the university provost.

Soon after, the FBI returned with a new subpoena. It was the same as the first one, Drooz said, and the university still had doubts about its legal sufficiency. This time, however, it came from New York and summoned Drooz to appear personally. The tactic was “a bit heavy-handed,” Drooz said, “the implication being you’re subject to contempt of court.” Drooz surrendered the records.

A high-ranking FBI official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the field office erred in attempting to use a national security letter. Investigators, he said, “were in a big hurry for obvious reasons” and did not approach the university “in the exact right way.”

Facts remain opaque

The electronic docket in the Connecticut case, as the New York Times first reported, briefly titled the lawsuit Library Connection Inc. v. Gonzales. Because identifying details were not supposed to be left in the public file, the court replaced the plaintiff’s name with “John Doe.”

Christian, Library Connection’s executive director, is identified as “John Doe 2.” In his affidavit, he said people often come to libraries for information that is “highly sensitive, embarrassing or personal.” He wanted to fight the FBI but feared calling a lawyer because the letter said he could not disclose its existence to “any person.”

He consulted Peter Chase, vice president of Library Connection and chairman of a state intellectual freedom committee. Chase (“John Doe 1”) in his affidavit – advised Christian to call the ACLU. Both declined to be interviewed for this story.

U.S. District Judge Janet Hall ruled in September that the FBI gag order violates Christian and Library Connection’s First Amendment rights. A three-judge panel heard oral argument Wednesday in the government’s appeal.

The central facts remain opaque, even to the judges, because the FBI is not obliged to describe what it is looking for, or why. During oral argument in open court Aug. 31, Hall said one government explanation was so vague that “if I were to say it out loud, I would get quite a laugh here.” After the government elaborated in a classified brief delivered for her eyes only, she wrote in her decision that it offered “nothing specific.”

Resistance to national security letters is rare. Most of them are served on large companies in highly regulated industries, with business interests that favor cooperation. The in-house lawyers who handle such cases, said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, “are often former prosecutors – instinctively pro-government but also instinctively by-the-books.” National security letters give them a shield against liability to their customers.

The volume of government information demands has provoked a backlash. Several major business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, complained in an Oct. 4 letter to senators that customer records can “too easily be obtained and disseminated” around the government. National security letters, they wrote, have begun to impose an “expensive and time-consuming burden” on business.

The House and Senate bills renewing the Patriot Act do not tighten privacy protections, but they offer a concession to business interests. In both bills, a judge may modify a national security letter if it imposes an “unreasonable” or “oppressive” burden on the company that is asked for information.

In the executive branch, no FBI or Justice Department official audits the use of national security letters to assess whether they are appropriately targeted, lawfully applied or contribute important facts to an investigation.

Justice Department officials noted frequently this year that Inspector General Glenn Fine reports twice a year on abuses of the Patriot Act and has yet to substantiate any complaint. (One investigation is pending.)

Fine advertises his role, but there is a puzzle built into the mandate. Under what scenario could a person protest a search of his personal records if he is never notified?

“We do rely upon complaints coming in,” Fine said in House testimony in May. He added: “To the extent that people do not know of anything happening to them, there is an issue about whether they can complain. So, I think that’s a legitimate question.”

© 2005 Journal Gazette and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.


A New Interview

by jody franklin

Robert Anton Wilson "is" one who is not "is." Perhaps we may describe him as a psychedelic philosopher, a postmodern trickster, an intellectual comedian, a twister ripping through the psyche. He first came to prominence as an editor of Playboy in the 1960s. During that time of magick he got involved with the Discordians, a "new religion disguised as a complicated joke," or "a complicated joke disguised as a new religion." Along with Robert Shea, he co-authored the Illuminatus! trilogy of novels, a work of mind-bending (fiction?) that weaved together multiple conspiracy theories and elevated Discordianism to true cult status. A close friend of Timothy Leary, he shared Dr. Leary's passions for radical psychology and futurism. His book Prometheus Rising melded model agnosticism to Leary's 8-circuit model of the brain to create a system that taught people how to deconstruct dogmatic personal belief systems. His numerous other books explored topics such as quantum mechanics, alternate universes, non-Aristotelian logic systems, sex magick, Wilhelm Reich, James Joyce and Orson Welles. His model agnostic approach to inquiry makes him a unique writer, one of few who can slip seamlessly from rationalist scientific thinking to non-materialist metaphysical speculation.

While he has struggled with post-polio syndrome in recent years, he remains active in propagating his various passions. Lance Bauscher, Cody McClintock and Robert Dofflemyer's 2003 film Maybe Logic explored and presented Wilsonian concepts wrapped in subtle yet explosive color and rhythm, a fitting tribute to his ideas. This project spun off into the Maybe Logic Academy, a learning institute that is
"grounded in the philosophy and perspective of maybe logic, an approach which emphasizes the fallibility and relativity of perception and tends to approach information and observations with questions, probabilities and multiple perspectives rather than absolute truths." New Falcon Publications will soon be releasing his new book Email To The Universe.

(Editor's note: This interview was conducted in two parts, in August 2004 and March 2005.)

You have a new book coming out called "Tale of the Tribe." What's that all about?

[RAW] I changed the title to EMAIL TO THE UNIVERSE. It's about James Joyce, Daoism, Internet and Aleister Crowley, plus my usual craziness.

[MB] It seems a lot of your writings have really connected with people, and perhaps even influenced their thinking and activities. Because of this effect on your fan base, some have suggested you to be a "cult figure." To make a clever little RAW-like slide here, this seems appropriate, given your early participation in the Discordian Society and your many writings on the Illuminati (a secret cult that may or may not exist.) Surfing the web one may find Discordian groups and references to Eris, golden apples, the Law of the Fives, the number 23, as well as other related ideas. Memes you sent out into the world twenty, thirty years ago continue to thrive and flourish. How do you feel about this legacy of having seeded such a diversity of eclectic memes?

[RAW] It's both pleasing and flattering, of course, but I'll feel much happier when Maybe Logic, the Snafu Law and the Cosmic Schmuck Law get seeded just as widely, or even more widely.

[MB] Let's seed them more widely right here! Can you explain to our readers what (Maybe Logic, the Snafu Law and the Cosmic Schmuck Law) are?

[RAW] Maybe Logic is a label that got stuck on my ideas by filmmaker Lance Bauscher. I decided it fits. I certainly recognize the central importance in my thinking -- or in my stumbling and fumbling efforts to think -- of non-Aristotelian systems. That includes von Neumann's three-valued logic [true, false, maybe], Rappoport's four-valued logic [true, false, indeterminate, meaningless], Korzybski's multi-valued logic [degrees of probability.] and also Mahayana Buddhist paradoxical logic [it "is" A. it "is" not A, it "is" both A and not A, it "is" neither A nor not A]. But, as an extraordinarily stupid fellow, I can't use such systems until I reduce them to terms a simple mind like mine can handle, so I just preach that we'd all think and act more sanely if we had to use "maybe" a lot more often. Can you imagine a world with Jerry Falwell hollering "Maybe Jesus 'was' the son of God and maybe he hates Gay people as much as I do" -- or every tower in Islam resounding with "There 'is' no God except maybe Allah and maybe Mohammed is his prophet"?

The Snafu law holds that, the greater your power to punish, the less factual feedback you will receive. If you can fire people for telling you what you don't want to hear, you will only hear what you want. This law seems to apply to all authoritarian contraptions, especially governments and corporations. Concretely, I suspect Bozo knows factually less about the world than any dogcatcher in Biloxi. The Cosmic Schmuck law holds that [1] the more often you suspect you may be thinking or acting like a Cosmic Schmuck, the less of a Cosmic Schmuck you will become, year by year, and [2] if you never suspect you might think or act like a Cosmic Schmuck, you will remain a Cosmic Schmuck for life.

[MB] Can E-prime revolutionize the English language?

[RAW] I sure hope so, but it needs help, like more computers online and more pot. LOTS more pot.

[MB] What is the purpose of your Maybe Logic Academy, and who else is involved? Just what the heck is going on there?

[RAW]I want to use Internet to accelerate human evolution by replacing faith-based decisions with research-based decisions. The others have similar or compatible goals. Our class leaders include R.U. Sirius, cyber-philosopher; Patricia Monaghan, goddess researcher; Alan Clements, activist and former Buddhist monk; Peter Caroll, mathematician and inventor of Chaos magick; Douglas Rushkoff, media maven; and others will join up soon.

[MB] You've written extensively on (and found new applications for) various scientific theories, particularly in the field of quantum mechanics. Yet you've maintained a critical distance from the scientific establishment, a kind of heretical voice and a sceptic of scepticism. You often cite Dr. Wilhelm Reich's story as an example of authority run amok. The US government destroyed much of Dr. Reich's controversial work, and nobody, particularly fellow scientists, stepped forward in protest or defence. Science is supposed to be about innovation, yet few scientists seem able to revise their pet theories once they've been accepted. I think this is why many found it shocking when Stephen Hawking recently stepped out and said, "I was wrong about black holes." Nobody is used to respected figures revising or chucking out their strongly-held beliefs. What is the importance of heresy, scepticism and unorthodox ideation to the advancement of science?

[RAW] Let me differentiate between scientific method and the neurology of the individual scientist. Scientific method has always depended on feedback [or flip-flopping as the Tsarists call it]; I therefore consider it the highest form of group intelligence thus far evolved on this backward planet. The individual scientist seems a different animal entirely. The ones I've met seem as passionate, and hence as egotistic and prejudiced, as painters, ballerinas or even, God save the mark, novelists. My hope lies in the feedback system itself, not in any alleged saintliness of the individuals in the system.

[MB] You're a self-described model agnostic, and you've deconstructed all manner of belief systems (BS) in your books. In Prometheus Rising, you encouraged people to consciously enter as many different reality tunnels as possible, to examine their beliefs from multiple viewpoints. Human culture is filled with people zealously attached to various orthodoxies and ideologies. The clash of fundamental belief systems has often proven destructive to humankind. What will it take to shake people from their dogmas?

[RAW] In a word, Internet. Ever since I read Wiener's Cybernetics: Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine back in 1948 I've thought of "intelligence" as a function of feedback. The more feedback, the higher the measurable "intelligence," and the less feedback, the less "intelligence." As the computer gave birth to the Net and the Web, feedback has increased exponentially. As R.U. Sirius wrote recently, "The rise of the Net and the Web represents a victory for the counterculture and the subculture. The next generation, raised on the Net as their primary medium, won't even know what consensus reality is." In other words, feedback and Maybe Logic form a circle that spins faster and faster. The Tsarists fear and hate it -- they call it "flip-flopping" -- but it characterizes all high intelligence systems, electronic or protoplasmic.

[MB] I agree that the internet seems to be a product of such an accelerated feedback system. This is something we can witness with every single online interaction. Now, there has been a lot of talk post-9.11 of an ominous totalitarian spectre looming over us, that Orwell's Big Brother is finally here. There are conspiriologists who believe that the internet, having risen from the Pentagon, has never been anything more than a Big Brotherist plot, and that folks like RU Sirius, John Perry Barlow and other Information Age philosophers are dupes (un)knowingly(?) providing a libertarian façade for this vast conspiracy. What if the internet is nothing more than the latest Tsarist method of control and information gathering?

[RAW] Well, then we're sunk, ain't we? Fortunately, there exists no logical or factual reason to believe that paranoid fantasy, and it is directly contradicted by the hard mathematics of Wiener and Shannon on "redundance of control" in feedback systems. What Juang Jou said of the universe 2400 years ago is even more true of the 4,285,199,774 computer URLs online today - [21 August 2004] -"there is no governor anywhere."

[MB] Speaking of 9.11 and the Pentagon, the day after the airplane split a hole in the side of the building, I immediately thought of yours and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! novel. In it, the five-sided Pentagon imprisons a supernatural beast called Yog Sothoth. If this ghoul were to escape, humankind would witness the immanentization of eschaton. This seems to be as apt a metaphor for the current millenarian cultural climate as I've ever seen. So, in a sense, did Yog Sothoth bust out on that day?

[RAW] Let's not take metaphors too literally. I'll admit Bozo has a lot in common with Yog Sothoth, and that he even has the same initials as GWB666 in Schrödinger's Cat, but I regard those as accidental hits. I don't think of myself as a sleeping prophet.

[MB] How close are we to immanentizing eschaton?

[RAW] It got immanentized 5 years ago when the Supremes called off the election and appointed GWB --the Great Wild Beast-- to the white house.

[MB] You wrote a compelling piece following the 2000 US presidential election, in which you pointed out one of those obvious things that most people missed: while 50% of eligible voters split their votes between Bush and Gore, the other 50% consciously chose to vote for Nobody. (I've actually been arguing that, since children, prisoners, aliens and other disenfranchised people were unable to vote, Bush only really got a mandate from about 14% of the American people. So much for "half the country" supporting him, as the media played it.) You've also theorized that a nefarious, neo-autocratic "Tsarist Occupation Government" (TSOG) controls the apparatus of the State. Screw the old Democrat versus Republican debate. Tell me, how do you think both Nobody and the TSOG will fare in the upcoming presidential election?

[RAW] I assume most intelligent people will continue to vote for Nobody, and the moron majority will split their votes about evenly, depending on which of the two multi-millionaire Skull-and-Bones-men has the most sex appeal. It doesn't really seem to matter: if the people marginally prefer the "wrong" candidate, the Supreme Court will assuredly "correct" them again. The TSOG seems a comfortable disease, like death by sleeping sickness. After 7000 years of Authoritarian Patriarchy, most people accept Tsarism and, in America, resent that pesky constitution imposed on them by a few intellectual freemasons.

[MB] This statement recalls Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism. It seems that there is massive, widespread public mistrust and disgust in politics and government, not only in the USA but in many parts of the world. Why are citizens so loyal to systems and leaders they admittedly have no respect for?

[RAW] Raymond Chandler, who served as a lieutenant of infantry in World War I, pointed out the same paradox on a smaller scale: in charging an enemy, troops are statistically safer if scattered broadly, but they all show a tendency to bunch together near the lieutenant, thereby increasing their risk. This seems a hardwired [even premammalian] vertebrate program. On top of that we've got the 7000+ years of authoritarian conditioning documented by Reich. Seems rather bleak, doesn't it? My optimism rests on the fact that, historically, in emergency, people often mutate in unpredictable and creative ways. As John Adams said, the American Revolution took place "in the minds of the people in the 15 years before the first shot was fired." I suspect a similar revolution is occurring in the minds of educated people worldwide.

[MB] Across the post-election landscape, there has been much talk of a "divided America," with pundits drawing a hard line between "blue states" and "red states." Is this line illusory?

[RAW] I suspect all lines exist only in our minds -- especially political lines. Universe seems more like waltzing chaos than like an account book.

[MB] Are we living in Phillip K. Dick's Rome?

[RAW] Well, Phil certainly lived there. I feel more like I live in Tsarist Russia. Sometimes I think of myself as the last Decembrist - and if that seems obscure or too kooky, just set your search engine for "Decembrists + Illuminati" and grok in their fullness the URLs that come up. Anyway, we certainly don't live in a constitutional democracy. I feel almost 99.999999999999999999999999999999% sure about that.

[MB] When I've been severely depressed, or severely stoned, I've been able to actually *feel* Dick's Rome, not just grok it as an intellectual concept. For me this reality tunnel is filled with emotion, paranoia, delusion, synchronicity, symbology, metaphor, heightened awareness. Does it ever go beyond theory for you? Do you *feel* Tsarist Russia?

[RAW] Frequently--- especially when I test my Buddhist detachment by trying to listen to "our" leaders without growling or cussing under my breath. I feel like the Decembrists, very poignantly. But I also identify a lot the founders of this moribund Republic. They knew the Constitution alone could not restrain the power lusts of Certain Types and warned that we needed eternal vigilance - - but they could only give us the Constitution, not the vigilance. Alas!

[MB] It would seem, then, that democracy is a cloak for autocracy. Has that all it's ever been? Or is history cycling backwards, have we collectively betrayed the Enlightenment?

[RAW] First, my passion turns toward CONSTITUTIONAL democracy, not just "democracy" in general, which I fear as much as our founders did. I want LIMITS on government, clearly defined and virtually "graven in stone." As John Adams wrote "My credo is that despotism or absolute power is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junta or a single emperor --equally arbitrary, bloody and in every respect diabolical." I agree totally. Yeah, I think we have lost a lot of light lately - and by "we" I mean both the suidaen politicos and the masses.

[MB] You've had to fight for your right to use marijuana medicinally. How did you become an activist?

[RAW] I've "activized" for various causes since 1959, because I have that sort of temperament. I got involved actively in the medicinal marijuana cause long before my post-polio symptoms made medical pot necessary in my own case. Now, stuck in a wheelchair most of the day, I feel not just activated but super-activated. I supported a wife and four kids most of my life. I have 35 books in print. NEW SCIENTIST called my CAT trilogy "the most scientific of all science-fiction novels." Now, at 73, I'm treated like a child by the TSOG -- and so is my doctor, a fully qualified M.D. Only the Tsar knows what's best for me, medically, and he knows without doing a medical examination even, just by consulting some faith-based organizations... To quote George Carlin "stunningly, STUNNINGLY, full of shit." If you'd like the view of research-based organizations see

[MB] You recently founded the Guns & Dope Party to combat the excesses of Tsarism. What are some of the central tenets of your party's platform?

[RAW] Guns for those who want them; no guns forced on those who don't want them [Quakers, Amish, pacifists in general etc.]

Drugs for those who want them; no drugs forced on those who don't want them [Christian Scientists, herbalists, homeopaths etc]

Bipedal unity -- equal rights for ostriches

Voluntary taxation: you pay for government programs you want; you don't pay a penny for any programs you don't want.

[MB] Do you feel that Temporary Autonomous Zones or Pirate Utopias have the potential to be free havens from the TSOG?

[RAW] Temporarily. Only Internet creates the real possibility of a Global Autonomous Zone. I think all problems have gotten solved and will get solved by [a] more information and [b] more rapid and ubiquitous transmission of information

[MB] The concept of Conspiracy has loomed large in your writings for decades. What fascinates you most about the concept of conspiracy theory?

[RAW] My major interest remains, as I said, in the area of non-Aristotelian logics, and around 1969 Bob Shea and I got the idea of writing a funny novel applying Maybe Logic to the arena of conspiriology. The result, ILLUMINATUS. went so far outside consensus reality-tunnels that it took us five years to get it published, and now, for 30 years, I keep receiving feedback from two groups who cannot handle the concept of "maybe" at all, at all. The first group believes fervently, beyond all doubt, that I endorsed the craziest ideas I've discussed and hence regards me as a dangerous nut. The second group has an equally ardent belief that I work for the CIA's disinformation bureau and want to make all conspiracy theories look equally crazy. I've written dozens of books on other subjects, but those two gangs continually provoke my stoned-out sense of humor, so I continually surrender to the temptation to have a little more fun with them......

[MB] Conspiriology is really big these days. Why do you feel people are so drawn to leftfield speculative ideas?

[RAW] As an admitted Cosmic Schmuck, I don't claim to "know" the answer to that -- or anything else -- but I do have certain persistent suspicions. I suspect, for instance, that "the Establishment" -- i.e. the TSOG and the corporate media -- have told so many outrageous lies that nobody really fully trusts them anymore. The weapons of mass destruction in Iraq still remain hidden from human perception. After that lie collapsed, the TSOG did not merely appear full of shit; it appeared, to quote Carlin again, that seems STUNNINGLY full of shit. So naturally a market has grown for explanations of what the hell really motivates Bozo and his gang. I regard my job as applying the same scathing criticism to all models that try to imply the model-maker really knows more than me and doesn't just guess, and speculate, and grope in the dark, like I admit I do.

[MB] You are well known for your work exploring speculative theories and esoterica. In books like Sex and Drugs and the Cosmic Trigger series, you wrote of experimentation with occult magick. Reflecting upon your numerous forays into these strange worlds where Science fears to tread, what are the most interesting "secrets" you discovered?

[RAW] The same that I simultaneously discovered in Buddhism and quantum physics: namely, the alleged "wall" between "me" and "the world" does not exist at all. Clearing thought and language of that fictitious split adds immeasurably to clarity. Oh, yes, and it improves your sense of humor, too!

[MB] Let's wrap it up with a little humor. Can you tell me a good joke?

[RAW] Three guys are drinking and arguing in a bar. "I tell you it should be spelled W-O-O-O-M," the first says dogmatically. "And I still say W-H-O-O-M sounds right," the second counters. "No, no, no," says the third. 'It's definitely W-H-O-M-B-B." "You've all got it wrong," offers a gynecologist at the next table. "It's W-O-M-B." They stare at her coldly. "Madam," the first says, "it's obvious that you've never heard an elephant fart."

The Bush Family Coup/ James Ridgeway

The Bush Family Coup
By James Ridgeway
The Village Voice

Friday 30 December 2005

Son revisits the sins of the father on America.
Washington - The 9-11 attacks provided the rationale for what amounts to a Bush family coup against the Constitution.

From the outset, President George Bush used 9-11 to reorganize and increase the federal government's reach far beyond any existing law to delve into the lives of innocent, ordinary people. The new powers allowed the government to arrest them at will and to subject them to endless incarceration without judicial review. Some people were sent abroad to be tortured for crimes they had nothing to do with. Who knows how many people have been tortured in American jails? When government employees within the intelligence community sought to protest, the government fired them and made sure they could never get another job in their areas of expertise. This extraordinary program of spying on Americans, much of which was carried out in fishing expeditions under the Patriot Act, has the makings of a consistent and long-range policy to wreck constitutional government.

It is little wonder both left and right have come together to fight Bush and may yet jettison the Patriot Act. Revelations of the domestic spy operation, with its secret wiretaps, ought to supply sufficient evidence to impeach Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and launch criminal prosecutions of the top federal officials involved in carrying out the program. After all, these people are directly engaged in overthrowing constitutional government. How did this all come about?

Get the Commies

In opening a conference on counterintelligence in March 2005, former president George H.W. Bush, who headed the CIA from 1975 to 1977, said, "It burns me up to see the agency under fire." Recent criticism, Bush said, reminded him of the 1970s, when Congress "unleashed a bunch of untutored little jerks out there" to investigate the CIA's involvement in domestic spying, assassinations, and other illegal activities, and subsequently passed laws to prevent abuses.

Bush was referring to the activities of the U.S. Senate's Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, commonly known as the Church Committee after its chair, Idaho Democratic senator Frank Church. Among other things, the committee's 1976 report detailed the workings of the infamous COINTELPRO, an FBI domestic spying program on Civil Rights leaders, anti-war groups, and anyone else who rubbed J. Edgar Hoover the wrong way. The report also detailed illegal domestic activities by the CIA and military intelligence. A simultaneous-and even more contentious-investigation was carried out in the House by the Select Committee on Intelligence, which also came to bear the name of it chair, New York Democratic congressman Otis Pike. The Pike Report focused on the CIA covert actions, as well as on the CIA's overall effectiveness and its budget.

Within days of the 9-11 attacks, officials of Bush the younger's administration and former intelligence chiefs were on the talk shows denouncing the "chilling effect" of the congressional investigations of the 1970s, and of subsequent halfhearted efforts to regulate the work of the intelligence agencies. Paul Bremer, the future head of the Iraq occupation, who had chaired the National Commission on Terrorism from 1998 to 2000, said on CNN that the Church Committee did "a lot of damage to our intelligence services. . . . And the more recent problem was that the previous administration put into effect guidelines which restricted the ability of CIA agents to go after . . . terrorist spies."

Congress lost no time in repealing these rather toothless earlier guidelines, along with a host of other restrictions, especially those safeguarding the privacy of electronic communications. The Senate passed the Combating Terrorism Act of 2001 on September 13, one of its first actions in response to the attacks.

Between 1960 and 1974, the FBI conducted half a million investigations of so-called subversives, without a single conviction, and maintained files on well over a million Americans. The FBI tapped phones, opened mail, planted bugs, and burglarized homes and offices. At least 26,000 individuals were at one point catalogued on an FBI list of persons to be rounded up in the event of a "national emergency." Hoover was particularly obsessed with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, which he thought was influenced by communists. The FBI proceeded to undermine the civil rights movement, planting agents among the Freedom Riders (and also the Ku Klux Klan). Hoover put spies into the ranks of labor activists and of Democratic Party insurgents during the 1964 presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, the CIA began spying domestically. The Agency planted informants of its own within the United States, especially on college campuses. Between 1953 and 1973, they opened and photographed nearly a quarter of a million first-class letters, producing an index of nearly 1.5 million names. Under something called Operation CHAOS, separate files were created on approximately 7,200 Americans and over 100 domestic groups. In 1964, the CIA even created a secret arm called the Domestic Operations Division, the very name of which flew in the face of its legal charter. Back then, there were no "communications problems" between the two agencies.

Raise the Wall

In documenting all this, the Church Committee concluded the intelligence community had engaged in actions "which had no conceivable rational relationship to either national security or violent activity." The report of the House's Pike Committee documented a history of CIA covert actions, as well as notable intelligence failures. As a result the CIA got out of domestic spying and the FBI supposedly pulled back from its orgy of homeland snooping. Some rather modest oversight was applied, the most important of which led to the creation of the "the wall." This refers to application of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA was enacted in 1978, in the wake of the congressional investigations, as a compromise that would allow the FBI and other domestic law enforcement to carry out counterintelligence operations while putting some sort of restraints on COINTELPRO-type abuses. Under FISA, the FBI could continue to do things like conduct searches and tap phones without traditional search warrants and without probable cause, as long as agents were targeting terrorists, spies, or other purported enemies of the United States, and as long as they got permission from a secret FISA court.

There was concern from the start that FISA would be used to circumvent the Fourth Amendment in routine criminal cases. So FISA dictated that these warrantless searches and surveillance could be conducted only for counterintelligence purposes, and not for regular criminal investigations. However, if a FISA search happened to turn up evidence of a crime, this information could be handed over to law enforcement. According to a joint inquiry conducted in 2002 by the Senate and House Select Committees on Intelligence, "the Intelligence Community agencies, perhaps overly 'risk-averse' in dealing with FISA-related matters, restricted the use of information far beyond what was required. The majority of FBI personnel interviewed . . . incorrectly believed that the FBI could not share FISA-derived information with criminal investigators at all or that an impossibly high standard had to be met before the information could be shared. Most did not know [it] could be shared with criminal investigators if it was simply relevant to the criminal investigation."

And anyway, the FBI never stopped its domestic spying. During the '80s and '90s the FBI spied on and/or infiltrated peace and solidarity groups engaged in protesting U.S. involvement in the wars of Central America, put agents into Earth First, and went after the far right, again trying to plant agents and turn participants into informants. The shooting at Ruby Ridge and the raid in Waco galvanized not just the right but the heartland against the Bureau. At Ruby Ridge, it was an FBI sniper killing a mother with a baby in her arms. At Waco it was a monstrous assault on a religious enclave. And the Bureau's handling of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995-with botched lab work and lost documents-to this day fuels the controversy over the government's role in that catastrophe. Recent evidence suggests a federal agent may have penetrated the gang that conducted the bombing. The informant told her superior, who sat on the information until long after the bombing.

Install Big Brother

The failures of the FBI and CIA in 9-11 were not because of any wall. These agencies failed because they weren't doing their jobs right. The congressional investigation found the CIA couldn't penetrate al Qaeda-an especially odd claim since we had helped to create and finance al Qaeda as an instrument to win the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. John Walker Lindh and other Americans walked right into al Qaeda and were greeted by its high officials. How come the CIA couldn't do the same? No wall kept the CIA from getting Osama bin Laden. They just couldn't find him. As for how the hijackers got into the U.S., it's hardly a mystery. An FBI informant among the Muslim community in San Diego socialized with two hijackers and rented a room to one of them. When Congress tried to figure out how this happened, the Bureau covered it up, refusing to allow the informant to testify. Again, there was no wall here-just plain incompetence made worse by a deliberate cover-up. The FBI reportedly was informed in April 2001 by a longtime reliable asset of an impending attack using airliners as missiles. It did nothing. An operation known as Able Danger reportedly turned up information on and tracked hijacker Mohammad Atta as far back as 1998, but the Pentagon wouldn't tell the FBI what it knew. Even now, the Bush administration is fighting to prevent the Able Danger officials from testifying before Congress about what they knew and when they knew it. When it comes to intelligence, the only thing worse than the FBI's record is the CIA's.

Given all that's happened, the only explanation for the Bush domestic spying is that it's political. There are no crimes involved here. But there is an over weaning desire by this so-called conservative government to establish and institutionalize a Big Brother regime that tolerates no dissent and wrecks constitutional government.


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