Pentagon Admits to Not Having a Death Cert., Autopsy Report or DNA ID Test Result for Bin Laden

Newly released heavily redacted emails obtained by the Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act has shed new light on the May 1, 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in his secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The internal emails sent among U.S. military officers indicate that no sailors aboard the USS Carl Vinson witnessed Bin Laden’s burial at sea and that only a small group of the ship’s leadership was even informed of the event.

“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was followed,” a May 2nd email from Rear Adm. Charles Gaouette reads. “The deceased’s body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased’s body slid into the sea.”

The Obama administration promised to be one of, if not the most transparent administration ever but when it comes to details surrounding the killing of Bin Laden they have been incredibly secretive. In a response to separate requests from the AP for information about the mission, the Defense Department said in March that it could not locate any photographs or video taken during the raid or any pictures or video showing Bin Laden’s body. It also said it could not find any images of Bin Laden’s body on the Vinson. Meanwhile the Pentagon says it can not find any death certificate, autopsy report or results of DNA identification tests for Bin Laden, or even any pre-raid materials discussing government plans to dispose of Bin Laden’s body if he were killed.

The CIA, which ran the Bin Laden raid and has special legal authority to keep information from ever being made public, has not responded to the AP’s request for records about the mission.

So if you have any questions as to how the government could conduct a military assault on a secret compound, kill and bury at sea the most wanted terrorist on earth without any video or pictures taken during the raid or any pictures or video of his dead body being dumped in the ocean or any death certificate, autopsy report or evidence of DNA identification please keep them to yourself. Just trust your government. They would never lie to you, would they!?

 

Obama’s Failed Promise of Transparency

President Barack Obama promised to “usher in a new era of open government” and “a new standard of openness” but as the president reaches the end of his term in office it appears that transparency can be added to the long list of broken promises from this administration.

According to an analysis of open-government requests filed by Bloomberg News, nineteen of 20 cabinet-level agencies failed to reveal the cost of travel by top officials violating the time frame requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. In all, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act.

Eric Newton, senior adviser at the Knight Foundation, a Miami-based group that promotes citizen engagement, said agencies have no excuse not to rapidly disclose travel costs.

“In a 24/7 world, it should take two days, it should take two hours,” Newton said. “If it’s public, it should be just there.”

“Over the past four years, federal agencies have gone to great efforts to make government more transparent and more accessible than ever, to provide people with information that they can use in their daily lives,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz, who pointed out that Obama received an award for his commitment to open government.

The March 2011 presentation of that award was closed to the press.

There has been much sharper scrutiny on the cost of government since the General Services Administration scandal surfaced that revealed that a 2010 Las Vegas junket, featuring a mind reader and a clown, cost taxpayers more than $823,000. The GSA almost tripled its expenditures for conferences from 2005 to 2010.

Another disturbing trend under the Obama administration is the number of exemptions issued to block the release of information. During the first year of hope and change, cabinet agencies employed a 50 percent jump in exemptions from the last year of the presidency of George W. Bush. That number has since gone down by 21 percent but still remains above any level seen during the Bush administration.

The majority of the exemptions came from the Department of Homeland Security.

Staff shortages and compliance costs are some of the excuses often cited to excuse Obama’s failures to uphold his transparency pledge.

“I don’t think the administration has been very good at all on open-government issues,” said Katherine Meyer, a Washington attorney who has been filing open records requests since the late 1970s. “The Obama administration is as bad as any of them, and to some extent worse.”

Meyer was able to get the $38,000 fee for the Center for Auto Safety’s request of records on the U.S. auto bailout by successfully arguing that the request was in the public interest.

The government’s own website, FOIA.gov, which monitors its response to filings shows that the number of backlogged requests grew 20 percent from 2010 to 2011 to 83,490 filings.

 

Treasury Officials Solicited Prostitutes, Broke Conflict-of-Interest Rules, Accepted Gifts from Corporate Execs

According to a detailed but seemingly unnoticed document posted this month on governmentattic.orgTreasury Department officials have been cited for soliciting prostitutes, breaking conflict-of-interest rules and accepting gifts from corporate executives, according to the findings of official government investigations. The documents were posted in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Investigators at the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), found that employees had engaged in unethical, and perhaps criminal, conduct. The findings come on the heels of embarrassing scandals for the Obama administration at the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Secret Service.

In 2010, an employee of the now defunct Office of Thrift Supervision,“misused” government resources to solicit prostitutes on three separate occasions via Craigslist. While working at the OTS, investigators said, the government staffer “viewed websites offering erotic services on a weekly basis as well as communicating with and arranging meetings with women offering erotic services.”

According to the documents the case was referred for criminal prosecution to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which opted not to prosecute “absent aggravating circumstances such as underage prostitutes or human trafficking.” The employee, who was not a political appointee, subsequently retired from the government.

In another finding, the OIG cited an Office of the Comptroller of the Currency staffer for accepting golf fees and meals from bank executives. The staffer, who had received ethics training, said he believed playing golf with industry officials under the purview of OCC was “a condoned activity.”

The golf outings took place on multiple occasions during workweeks when OCC was conducting bank examinations. Many of the greens fees and meals at the golf course were paid for by corporate executives.

The OIG stated the OCC official “violated several regulations covering ethics and the conduct of employees in the performance of their official duties” but the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia declined to pursue criminal charges.

There were numerous other financial conflicts of interest with the OCC relating to contract bids and the acceptance of improper gifts such as flowers, meals and at least one limousine ride. A separate Treasury official was found to have a financial conflict of interest in 2010 when it was disclosed that he had an overdraft protection line of credit loan from a financial institution that was regulated by the OTS.

The documents from OIG also show that a few allegations of unethical conduct were found to be without merit.

Treasury Department officials say the violations are isolated incidents.

“Treasury has a strong ethics policy that we expect all of our employees to follow, and the overwhelming majority of them do. As with any large organization, issues of misconduct occasionally arise. When that happens at Treasury, we act promptly and decisively to address them. The OIG moved aggressively to investigate the isolated instances of misconduct referenced in these documents, most of which were brought to the OIG’s attention by bureau management,” a Treasury spokesman told The Hill.

The spokesman added that “all six of these isolated cases of misconduct were done by career federal employees.”

Unlike most government entities, the OCC does not receive appropriations from Congress. Its operations are primarily funded from assessments levied on national banks and federal saving associations.

 

NYPD Spying on Liberal Groups

Undercover NYPD police officers attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists who planned protests around the country, according to interviews and documents.

It turns out that law enforcement has been using counterterrorism tactics to monitor even lawful activities.

The tactics used by the NYPD are similar to ones used ahead of New York’s 2004 Republican National Convention, when police monitored anti-war organizations, environmental advocates and even church groups nationwide.

Police claimed the spying was necessary to prepare for the huge crowds that were headed to the city, but documents obtained by The Associated Press revealed that the police intelligence unit continued to track political groups in 2008, after the convention ended.

In April 2008, an undercover NYPD officer attended the People’s Summit in New Orleans, a gathering of liberal groups opposed to U.S. economic policy and trade agreements between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Two activists, Jordan Flaherty, a journalist, and Marisa Franco, a labor organizer for housekeepers and nannies were mentioned by name in one of the police intelligence reports obtained by the AP.

“One workshop was led by Jordan Flaherty, former member of the International Solidarity Movement Chapter in New York City,” officers wrote in an April 25, 2008, memo to David Cohen, the NYPD’s top intelligence officer. “Mr. Flaherty is an editor and journalist of the Left Turn Magazine and was one of the main organizers of the conference. Mr. Flaherty held a discussion calling for the increase of the divestment campaign of Israel and mentioned two events related to Palestine.”

The document reveals the latest example of how, in the name of fighting terrorism, law enforcement agencies around the country target groups that legally oppose government policies. The FBI, for instance, has collected information on anti-war demonstrators. The Maryland state police infiltrated meetings of anti-death penalty groups. Texas officials urged authorities to monitor lobbying efforts by pro Muslim-groups. Missouri counterterrorism analysts suggested that support for republican presidential candidate Ron Paul might indicate support for violent militias. State officials later apologized for those assertions.

By contrast, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests and in related protests in other cities, officials at the U.S. Homeland Security Department repeatedly urged authorities not to produce intelligence reports based simply on protest activities.

“Occupy Wall Street-type protesters mostly are engaged in constitutionally protected activity,” department officials wrote in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the website Gawker. “We maintain our longstanding position that DHS should not report on activities when the basis for reporting is political speech.”

At the NYPD, the monitoring was carried out by the Intelligence Division, a squad that operates with nearly no outside oversight. The division has been the subject of a series of Associated Press articles that illustrated how the NYPD monitored Muslim neighborhoods, catalogued people who prayed at mosques and eavesdropped on sermons.

The NYPD has defended its practices, saying the threat of terrorism means officers cannot wait to open an investigation until a crime is committed. Under rules governing NYPD investigations, officers are allowed to go anywhere the public can go and can prepare reports for “operational planning.”

Though the NYPD’s infiltration of political groups before the 2004 convention generated some controversy and has become an element in a lawsuit over the arrest, fingerprinting and detention of protesters, the surveillance itself has not been challenged in court.

Flaherty, who also writes for The Huffington Post, said he was not an organizer of the summit, as police wrote in the NYPD report. He said the event described by police actually was a film festival in New Orleans that same week, suggesting that the undercover officer’s duties were more widespread than described in the report.

Flaherty said he recalls introducing a film about Palestinians but spoke only briefly and does not understand why that landed him a reference in police files.

“The only threat was the threat of ideas,” he said. “I think this idea of secret police following you around is terrifying. It really has an effect of spreading fear and squashing dissent.”

Eugene Puryear, 26, an activist who attended the New Orleans summit, said he was not surprised to learn that police were monitoring it. He said it was entirely peaceful, a way to connect community organizers around the issues of racism and the rights of the poor. But he described it as a challenge to corporate power and said the NYPD probably felt threatened by it.

“From their perspective, they need to spy on peaceful groups so they’re not effective at putting out their peaceful message,” he said. “They are threatened by anything challenging the status quo.”

ACLU Sues U.S. for Information on Targeted Killing Program

From the ACLU Blog of rights:

“Today we filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to demand that the government release basic — and accurate — information about the government’s targeted killing program.

Our government’s deliberate and premeditated killing of American terrorism suspects raises profound questions that ought to be the subject of public debate. Unfortunately the Obama administration has released very little information about the practice — its official position is that the targeted killing program is a state secret — and some of the information it has released has been misleading.”

You can read the rest of the post here.

 

Civil Liberties Advocates Concerned About Dept. of Homeland Security Monitoring Social Networking Sites

Civil liberties advocates are sounding alarms over the practice of the Department of Homeland Security monitoring social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. They say the DHS may begin tracking public reaction to news events and reports that “reflect adversely” on the U.S. government.Documents obtained from the DHS through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit contained a February 2010 analyst handbook that touted a good example of “capturing public reaction” by monitoring Facebook and other sites for public sentiment about the possible transfer of Guantanamo detainees to a Michigan prison.

According to a senior DHS official the department does not monitor dissent or gather reports tracking citizens’ views. He said such reporting would not be useful in the types of emergencies to which officials need to respond. Officials also said that the analyst handbook is no longer in use and that the current version does not include the Guantanamo detainee reaction or similar examples.

With the rise of digital media, the DHS and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies have begun monitoring blogs and social media to anticipate trends and threats that affect homeland security, such as flu pandemics or terrorist plots.

Monitoring for “positive and negative reports” on U.S. agencies is not part of the department’s mission to “secure the nation,” said the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which obtained a copy of a contract and related material describing DHS’s social media monitoring through its FOIA suit.

According to the documents, the department’s Office of Operations Coordination and Planning awarded a contract in 2010 to Fairfax-based General Dynamics’ Advanced Information Systems. The company’s task is to provide media and social media monitoring support to Homeland Security’s National Operations Center (NOC) on a “24/7/365 basis” to enhance DHS’s “situational awareness, fusion and analysis and decision support” to senior leaders.

“The language in the documents makes it quite clear that they are looking for media reports that are critical of the agency and the U.S. government more broadly,” said Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s open government program. “This is entirely outside of the bounds of the agency’s statutory duties, and it could have a substantial chilling effect on legitimate dissent and freedom of speech.”

John Cohen, a senior counterterrorism adviser to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said that in his three years on the job, during which he has received every social media summary the NOC has produced, he has never seen a report summarizing negative views of DHS or any other governmental agency. Such reports, he said, “would not be the type of reporting I would consider helpful” in forming an operational response to some event or emergency.

“What I generally get are reports regarding hazmat spills, natural disasters, suspicious packages and street closures, active shooter situations, bomb threats,” Cohen said. “That is the type of information being pulled off social media.”

There is one sense in which reports of “adverse” publicity might be useful, he said: for example, alerting senior officials to the arrest of an off-duty officer for discharging his weapon.

The $11.3 million General Dynamics contract began in 2010 with a four-year renewal option. It states that the firm should provide daily social network summaries, weekly data reports and a monthly status report.The work is being done for DHS’s Office of Operations Coordination and Planning.

A year ago, the department released a report describing privacy guidelines on its social media monitoring program. For instance, information that can identify an individual may be collected if it “lends credibility” to the report. Officials said that would generally be provided to operational officials responding to an emergency.

 

Obama administration looking to circumvent Freedom of Information Act

President Obama promised on the campaign trail that his administration would make a dedicated commitment to transparency, but so far his presidency has done the exact opposite.

For one he said his attempt to reform healthcare for the American people would be debated on C-Span, but what eventually became to be known as the Healthcare Affordability Act was in fact written behind closed doors by healthcare insurance and pharmaceutical insiders. He has invoked the “state secrets” privilege to derail litigation about government misdeeds in the war on terror just like the previous republican administration. He has refused to release his secret interpretation of the Patriot Act, which led Democratic Senator and member of the Intelligence Committee Ron Wyden to say:

“I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,”

The Obama administration has also blocked the release of photographs documenting the abuse of prisoners by U.S. service members. All of that pales in comparison though to the administration’s latest attempt to hide their actions from public scrutiny. The Justice Dept. recently proposed to allow government agencies to lie about the existence of documents being sought under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

The way the law works currently is that if the government doesn’t want to admit the existence of a document it believes to be exempt from FOIA, it may advise the person making the request that it can neither confirm nor deny the document’s existence. Under the new proposed regulation, an agency that withholds a document “will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist.” This would basically make FOIA completely irrelevant as government agencies would be able to outright lie to U.S. citizens about the existence of documents.

The Freedom of Information Act doesn’t provide a blanket right to public access to government documents. It’s reasonable to have exceptions for certain classified national security or foreign policy documents if their release would damage American interests. It is also reasonable that documents that fall into that category be subject to review by the courts, but it is completely unacceptable as well as undemocratic to just lie about their existence. Change? Without a doubt, change for the worse.

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