Tag Archives: Intelligence

Federal Judge Lifts 11-Year Surveillance Gag Order on Internet Service Provider

In 2004, Nicholas Merrill, founder of internet service provider (ISP) Calyx Institute, was served a controversial national security letter (NSL) from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Eleven years later, the NSL’s gag order- which prevented Merrill from discussing the letter he’d received- has been lifted by a federal judge in a historic decision which “marked the first time such a gag order has been fully lifted since the USA Patriot Act in 2001 expanded the FBI’s authority to unilaterally demand that certain businesses turn over records simply by writing a letter saying the information is needed for national security purposes,” according to the Intercept.

NSLs are a tool used by the government to force telecommunication companies to give customer information without the use of a warrant from a judge. While NSLs have been in use since at least the late 1970s, their use has exploded since the 9/11 attacks.

NSLs are generally issued by the FBI to gather information from companies when related to national security investigations. This information can include customer names, addresses, phone and internet records, and banking and credit statements.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, at least 300,000 NSLs have been delivered over the last decade. The year 2004 saw over 56,000 NSLs issued. For comparison, in 2000 before the passage of the Patriot Act which relaxed standards to issue NSLs, there were about 8,500 NSLs sent.

The most contentious part of NSLs is the usage of gag orders. When a credit reporting agency, telecom company, bank or travel firm receive the letters requesting customer information, they are legally gagged and are prohibited from alerting anyone about the incident- not the customer, and not their families. The individual may seek help from a lawyer, but the lawyer then also becomes gagged.

Another alarming feature of NSLs are the fact that a judge is not needed to approve the letter or gag order.

[RELATED: Federal Appeals Court Begins Hearing Arguments on Government Surveillance Gag Order]

Image Credit: Leaksource.info
Image Credit: Leaksource.info

Eventually the FBI would withdraw the NSL because Merrill refused to comply, but Merrill continued to fight, partnering with the American Civil Liberties Union to launch a lawsuit against the FBI in the case Doe v. Ashcroft. In 2010 Merrill was finally able to disclose his identity but the fight against the gag order continued.

On August 28, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero ruled that there was no “good reason” to force Merrill to remain silent about the NSL. After eleven years, the gag order has been lifted and Merrill is almost free to speak about the experience. He remains under gag order for 90 more days as the Justice Department weighs an appeal.

The Intercept reported: 

“‘If Merrill were only allowed to disclose details about the request ‘in a world in which no threat of terrorism exists,’ or in the case that the FBI disclosed the records itself — two extremely unlikely possibilities — it would effectively prevent ‘accountability of the government to the people,’ the judge wrote.”

Judge Marrero also stated that the FBI’s position was “extreme and overly broad,” and reminded the government that “Courts cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, simply accept the Government’s assertions that disclosure would implicate and create a risk.”

In a press release from the Calyx Institute, Merrill writes, “Judge Marrero’s decision vindicates the public’s right to know how the FBI uses warrantless surveillance to peer into our digital lives. I hope today’s victory will finally allow Americans to engage in an informed debate about proper the scope of the government’s warrantless surveillance powers.”

Jonathan Manes, supervising attorney in the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, commented on the ruling, stating, “Today’s decision will finally allow Mr. Merrill to shed light on the scope of the FBI’s claimed authority under the NSL statute, and to explain how the FBI’s interpretation is deeply problematic and potentially unlawful.”

Truth In Media has previously written about other efforts to reign in the use of National Security Letters. In October 2014, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked an appeals court to uphold a ruling that found the NSL provision of the Patriot Act to be unconstitutional.

In 2013, the unnamed company took their NSL to court to debate its constitutionality. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco ruled that the NSLs violated the First Amendment by removing the recipient’s ability to speak about the letter. The EFF and the company itself face federal prison time if they choose to reveal the names of the defendants.

What are your thoughts on National Security Letters? Do you believe this ruling will slow down the surveillance state? Leave your comments below.

Wife of American Imprisoned in Iran Details His Arrest – EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

WASHINGTON—February 15, 2015 – When Naghmeh Abedini married her husband Saeed in Iran, she never dreamed she would raise their future children as a single mother in Boise, Idaho, while her husband languished for years in an Iranian prison.

A native of Iran, Naghmeh and her family left when she was nine years old and spent a year in California before relocating to Boise. Her father was educated in the United States and obtained his master’s degree at Oregon State University prior to taking his family out of Iran. “He had a green card,” says Naghmeh, “We were not refugees.”

The real reason they left Iran, however, was due to the radicalization of their Muslim faith in the school system. “My brother was being brainwashed in elementary school,” says Naghmeh, “They started war recruiting for Jihad when he was eight years old.” Students were told that if they died for the cause they would “get to meet God.” They were forced to run through active mine fields as a school exercise. The land mines would occasionally detonate. “The government arrested any parents who complained,” says Naghmeh, “So our parents quietly packed up and left.”

Her parents were unhappy with the school system in California, also, and hoped a move to a smaller city would help preserve their culture and Muslim faith. Within ten years in Boise, however, both of Naghmeh’s parents, along with herself, her brother, and a sister had converted to Christianity.

In 2001, Naghmeh spent a year in Iran. Just before she returned to Boise, her cousin invited her to a government-approved Christian church service. She heard Saeed Abedini speak and was intrigued by his passion, so she introduced herself and asked him if he would watch out for her cousins. Later, she learned that Saeed was a pastor and a leader of the growing house church movement. He was also a former Muslim who once desired to kill Christians, but he converted in 2000. When she returned to Iran in 2003 for another visit, the sparks flew between them. He proposed marriage in June of that year, and they were married in Iran the following June in a government-sanctioned Christian church.

The Abedini’s life together in Iran was cut short when the country experienced a regime change in 2005 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to power. Known for his religious hardline stances, Ahmadinejad was a main figure in the Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran party, usually shortened to Abadgaran and widely regarded as the political front for the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Revolutionary Guards.) The latter group was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2007.

After Ahmadinejad was elected, the church the Abedinis married in was forced to close, as were other Christian churches in Iran, despite current law allowing the peaceful gathering of religious minorities. Overnight, Christians were seemingly not welcome or tolerated in the country, so the couple moved together to Boise. Their daughter Rebekka was born in 2006 and their son Jacob arrived in 2008, the same year Saeed became an ordained minister through the American Evangelistic Association.

In 2009, the entire family decided to visit Iran together and see Saeed’s family, as it had been four years since he had seen his parents who had yet to meet their grandchildren. When the Boise-based Abedini family arrived at the airport to fly home to Idaho, Saeed was arrested by Iranian intelligence police. “Please leave Iran,” Saeed told his wife and children, “It will make it easier on me.”

The Abedinis are American citizens. Saeed, age 35, has not seen his children or his wife since June 2012.
The Abedinis are American citizens. Saeed, age 35, has not seen his children or his wife since June 2012.

Saeed was placed on house arrest for a month in his parents’ home while investigators determined whether or not he was still establishing Christian church groups. Before he was released, the police advised him to focus on humanitarian efforts—a move that inspired Saeed to use his grandfather’s land and an existing building to open an orphanage in the Iranian city of Rasht.

Back in Idaho, Saeed began a three-year process riddled with paperwork hurdles and setbacks in an attempt to open the orphanage he envisioned. He visited Iran ten more times in an effort to complete the approval process for the orphanage. Naghmeh, Rebekah, and Jacob joined him in October 2011, as the Abedinis were convinced that the orphanage was close to being opened. “We really wanted our kids to be able to meet the orphans,” Naghmeh recalls. However, by February 2012, the approval was still pending. The Abedinis returned to Boise once more. Four months later, Saeed traveled to Iran to finish the orphanage once and for all. “That was the last time I saw him,” says Naghmeh.

He was due to return to Boise on July 29. However, on July 27, Saeed was arrested on a bus in Turkey after looking at land in Georgia. He was placed under house arrest once again. The Iranian government seized his U.S. Passport and he was questioned for months about his activities, without being charged with a crime.

He thought he would be able to resolve his detainment with one last interrogation, scheduled for September 26 at a location to be determined by a 9:00 a.m. phone call that same day. However, Revolutionary Guards forces raided his parents’ house in Tehran at 6:00 a.m. and took Saeed to an unknown location. Four days later, it was revealed that he was in solitary confinement at the notorious Evin Prison. Saeed was accused of “corrupting a whole generation against Islam,” a reference to his pre-Revolution house church activities.

Saeed was charged with undermining the national security of Iran. At his trial on January 21, 2013, Saeed and his attorney were only given one day to make their defense. He was convicted by Judge Pir-Abassi of Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, and sentenced a week later to eight years in prison. Revolutionary Court trials are not public, there is no jury, and a single judge decides the cases—which are final and not eligible for appeal. Details about court proceedings are revealed at the sole discretion of the court. The government says it will release Saeed if he converts back to Islam, but he refuses.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is representing Naghmeh and her children. “This is a real travesty—a mockery of justice,” said ACLJ’s Executive Director Jordan Sekulow. “From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release. Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights.”

Naghmeh Abedini has received tremendous support from both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz as she seeks her husband's release from a dangerous Iranian prison.
Naghmeh Abedini has received tremendous support from both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz as she seeks her husband’s release from a dangerous Iranian prison.

Saeed Abedini has been reportedly beaten and tortured during his incarceration and is now housed in the Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj, his sudden move a possible indication of defiance toward President Hassan Rouhani by the Revolutionary Guard. Saeed is denied any electronic or voice communications with the outside world, but his parents visit him almost weekly, bring him letters from home, and send his letters out—including one to President Obama just before this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.

Naghmeh is hopeful due to extensive support from Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, as well as remarks made by President Obama, that her husband’s release will be secured during upcoming negotiations with Iran. “We’re in a good place,” she says, “If Iran wants to make a deal, I want to make sure Saeed is not left behind.”

The Persecution of U.S. Political Prisoner & Whistleblower John Kiriakou

Imprisoned CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who is currently serving a thirty-month sentence in Loretto Federal Correctional Institution, in his most recent letter from prison alleges to have been threatened by a “senior prison official.” In the letter, Kiriakou states that he was told that there has been discussion amongst prison officials of engaging him in “diesel therapy” for the remainder of his sentence.

“Diesel therapy” is a method of continually moving a prisoner from prison to prison across the country via bus, van, or plane. This continual movement results in the inmate being unable to receive calls, mail, or visitation. In many cases family members and even the attorney don’t know where the inmate is located at any given moment.

Mr. Kiriakou suggests these actions “would obviously be retaliation for his press interviews” and his “Letters from Loretto.” Of course, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) could claim it is due to “bedspace” or “safety” issues.

There is an obvious and continuing pattern of persecution and abuse, against Mr. Kiriakou, that has been taking place since becoming the first CIA official to publically admit that torture was official U.S. policy under President George W. Bush’s administration. This action immediately made him a target of the military/security/intelligence complex and its political cronies.

Kiriakou believes what is currently taking place in the U.S. is a new form of McCarthyism saying,

“…(It’s) all a part of the plan to force the whistleblower into personal ruin, to weaken him to the point where he will plead guilty to just about anything to make the case go away. I know. The three espionage charges against me made me one of ‘the Obama Seven.’

In early 2012, I was arrested and charged with three counts of espionage and one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA). (I was only the second person in US history to be charged with violating the IIPA, a law that was written to be used against rogues like Philip Agee.)Two of my espionage charges were the result of a conversation I had with a New York Times reporter about torture. I gave him no classified information – only the business card of a former CIA colleague who had never been undercover. The other espionage charge was for giving the same unclassified business card to a reporter for ABC News. All three espionage charges were eventually dropped.

So, why charge me in the first place?

It was my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program and for confirming to the press, despite government protestations to the contrary, that the US government was, indeed, in the business of torture.

Many of us believed that the torture policy was solely a Bush-era perversion. But many of these perversions, or at least efforts to cover them up or justify them, have continued under President Obama.

Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, declared a war on whistleblowers virtually as soon as they assumed office. Some of the investigations began during the Bush administration, as was the case with NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, but Espionage Act cases have been prosecuted only under Obama. The president has chosen to ignore the legal definition of whistleblower – any person who brings to light evidence of waste, fraud, abuse or illegality – and has prosecuted truthtellers.”

Mr. Kiriakou eventually plead guilty to the IIPA violation, with the three counts of espionage being dropped. He was sentenced in January of 2013, reporting to the prison on February 28th, 2013. Since that day, Kirakou has been a continual target of an orchestrated campaign of harassment, intimidation tactics, and rights violations by corrections officials, as documented in his “Letters from Loretto”, which began being published on website Firedoglake in the summer of 2013.

The letters ceased for a while after being promised by prison officials that if he quit writing he could serve out the final nine months of his sentence in a halfway house. When the prison reneged on its promise, the letters resumed.

The Bureau of Prisons, with CIA complicity, engaged in attempting to stop Kirakou from sending letters from prison. According to Firedoglake, on August 30, 2013, he was “forced to sign” a “memo” from the United States Justice Department that stated he was “legally obligated to clear everything” he wrote “for publication with the CIA’s Publication Review Board (PRB).” The Special Investigative Service “was now demanding that I give all future ‘Letters from Loretto’ to them, and they would sent it on to the CIA,” he asserts. He was not “permitted to send a copy” to his attorney or seek any legal advice before signing the memo. “Failure to follow” would “result in disciplinary action.”

His attorney, Mark MacDougall, immediately called him after finally receiving a copy of the “memo” and said what Kirakou was being required to do was “illegal, unconstitutional, and unenforceable.”

Additionally, Mr. Kiriakou was placed on Central Inmate Monitoring, which is reserved for prisoners who “present special needs management.” According to BOP policy, it’s to make the “institution environment safe… (using) case management decisions based on accurate information and sound correctional judgment.”

The only reason he even found out about the CIM designation was that he had filed a FOIA request on himself. Five of the pages were marked, “FOIA Exempt: Do Not Release to Inmate.” BOP policy states, “The case manager shall ensure that affected inmate is notified in writing as promptly as possible of the classification and basis for it.” Mr. Kiriakou was never at any time notified of this designation.

According to Mr. Kiriakou, “Specifically the documents cautioned, ‘PUBLICITY- Inmate has broad access to the press. Attached are articles the inmate has been mentioned in.”

Kiriakou went on to say, “The Bureau of Prisons is afraid of you knowing what the prison system is really like. They’re afraid of the public disclosure that they don’t bother to follow their own rules. They’re afraid that you’ll learn that they can violate the law with impunity. They’re afraid of ‘Letters from Loretto’.”

Actions of the federal government have shown it to be extremely fearful of the truths this persecuted political prisoner has to share with world. The feds are willing to break their own rules, guidelines, and policies in an attempt to silence him and suppress him from exercising his 1st Amendment rights. The continuing tyrannical oppression of this man is beyond reprehensible. Keep speaking truth to power Mr. Kiriakou, your message is being heard.

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