Published June 13, 2013
Feb. 2, 2012: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
Following revelations about the federal government’s surveillance programs, FBI Director Robert Mueller defended the government’s collection of millions of U.S. phone records, emails and other information that people transmit online as vital to the nation’s national security. Mueller told a House Judiciary panel Thursday that law enforcement must stay “a step ahead of criminals and terrorists” while still heeding Americans’ civil liberties.
Early in the hearing, Mueller tried to make the case for the National Security Agency surveillance programs and said that law enforcement “must stay a step ahead of criminals and terrorists” while still heeding the civil liberties of Americans.
Mueller, who is stepping down from his post in September, says that if the metadata collection program had been in place before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, they would have identified one of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego and most likely derailed the plot.
Published time: June 11, 2013 14:53
“Such methods are in demand. But you can’t just listen to the phone call in Russia; you need a special order from court. This is how this should be done in civilized society while tackling terrorism with the use of any technical means. If it is in the framework of the law, then it’s ok. If not it is unacceptable,” Putin said answering the question of RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan. Commenting on Obama’s statement that “You can’t have 100 per cent security and 100 per cent privacy,” Putin disagreed, saying it is possible if done within the law.
Russia said it could consider the possibility of granting political asylum to 29-year-old Edward Snowden, if such request is made. The ex-CIA worker disclosed the existence of PRISM, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) massive data-mining surveillance program, to The Guardian.
“If we receive such a request, we will consider it,” President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said.
By Tom Blumer | June 09, 2013 | 16:59
Although there are stories at Fox News and the Daily Caller, there appears to be almost no interest on the part of the establishment press in covering the Treasury Department’s failure to report over 99% of its conference costs when Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn asked for an itemized listing a year ago.
The Politico, the repository for stories which cause Democrats and the left discomfort that the rest of the press would prefer to ignore (“Oh, the Politico did something with it, so we don’t have to”), buried the item in a “Morning Tax” report Thursday. Writer Lauren French held off as long as she possibly could presenting how the $50 million in omitted IRS costs dwarfed the measly $500,000 which was reported (paragraph breaks added by me; bolds are mine throughout this post):
Coburn questions incomplete disclosure from Treasury
MORE MISSED DISCLOSURES. The inspector general audit detailing the nearly $50 million the IRS spent on conferences shocked members of Congress. But none more than Sen. Tom Coburn.
That’s because the Oklahoma Republican had already been told by the Treasury Department of each conference the department held from 2005 to 2012 — and that response did not mention any of the 200 IRS conferences included in the IG report.
The Treasury, responding from a 2012 request from Coburn, said it hosted only five conferences with more than 50 staffers and the cost for the events were under $500,000. Now Coburn is asking Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to explain the discrepancy.
Published May 31, 2013
What started as a scandal over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups has broadened, with lawmakers and other critics now questioning whether other kinds of organizations were unfairly flagged for additional scrutiny.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Small Business Committee, wrote a letter to Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel on Friday asking a series of questions about the agency’s audit practices for small businesses.
He made no specific allegation, but said that lawmakers’ investigations to date prompted the letter.
“(Congressional) investigations have only raised more questions as to the extent these practices may have extended beyond conservative groups,” Graves wrote.
Indeed, the scope of the IRS’ heavy auditing and scrutiny appears to go beyond Tea Party groups.
Dr. Anthony Levatino, former abortionist turned pro-life activist
(CNSNews.com) – A former abortionist who said he had performed some 1,200 abortions before his conversion to pro-life activist, said Thursday at a House subcommittee hearing that abortion causes pain to unborn babies.
“If anybody thinks that ripping off arms and legs and crushing these children the way we’re doing during these procedures isn’t painful, they’re just kidding themselves … badly kidding themselves,” Dr. Anthony Levatino said at a hearing on the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
Levantino was one of four witnesses at the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice hearing to discuss fetal pain and the bill, H.R. 1797, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks across the nation.
Sunday, 26 May 2013
Republican lawmakers denounced Democratic President Barack Obama’s plan for winding down the U.S. war on terror, calling it a misguided approach that undermines national security.
Obama’s May 23 policy speech, which urged an end to the broad war powers Congress approved to fight al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was portrayed by Republicans as a lack of resolve in the face of terrorism threats worldwide.
“At a time when we need resolve the most, we are sounding retreat,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “Our enemies are emboldened all over the planet. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is coming back with a vengeance.”
The president said he would curtail drone strikes and push for an eventual closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. The speech called for a ratcheting-down of the war on terrorism, with Obama saying that the U.S. may be drawn into more wars unless the nation moderates its stance.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama, as well as the Republican Bush administration, failed to talk honestly about the scope of the global threat posed by terrorism. The president’s speech missed the mark, he said.
Published May 23, 2013
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa declared Thursday that the embattled IRS official who refused to testify Wednesday had no right to do so, and is now looking to haul her back before his committee.
The chairman of the House oversight committee made the call after consulting with attorneys about IRS official Lois Lerner’s bizarre appearance before the panel on Wednesday. Lerner, the head of the exempt organizations division which oversaw the controversial targeting of conservative groups, caused confusion Wednesday morning when she pleaded the Fifth and refused to answer questions — but also delivered an opening statement in which she asserted her innocence.
Though Issa dismissed her from the hearing room, he questioned at the time whether she had waived her rights by delivering the statement. A spokesman told Fox News on Thursday that Issa had reached a decision.
“After consulting with counsel, Chairman Issa has concluded that Ms. Lerner’s 5th amendment assertion is no longer valid,” spokesman Ali Ahmad said. “She remains under subpoena, the Committee is looking at recalling her for testimony.”
Issa, citing the concerns over Lerner’s comments, never actually adjourned the hearing — where other current and former Treasury and IRS officials testified. He only called it into recess. The thinking among Republicans is that they can still call her back to testify.
WASHINGTON – Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax exempt organizations division, told the House Oversight Committee that she had done nothing wrong before invoking her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not testify.
“I have not done anything wrong,” Lerner said in a brief opening statement. “I have not broken any laws, I have not violated any IRS rules and regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”
Lerner said she “would very much like to answer the committees questions today,” but that her counsel had advised her not to testify, in light of the Department of Justice criminal investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
Because she was taking the Fifth, Lerner said, “I know that some people will assume I’ve done something wrong. I have not.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the committee, subsequently dismissed Lerner from the hearing.
May 20, 2013 By Patrick Goodenough
Pakistani Christians protest against the country’s blasphemy laws and violence targeting their minority community. An independent U.S. watchdog has urged the executive branch every year since 2002 to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” over religious freedom violations. (AP Photo)
(CNSNews.com) – As the State Department prepares to release its annual report on international religious freedom Monday, a key issue for many Americans concerned about religious persecution is whether it will blacklist a handful of particularly egregious violators – or, as in previous years, ignore the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The question is especially sensitive in the case of countries where the plight of minority Christians has worsened, even as their governments benefit significantly at the cost of U.S. taxpayers.
Among the religious freedom violators are four of the top ten recipients of U.S. foreign aid in fiscal year 2013 – Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Nigeria. Another is Vietnam, whose communist government has seen its diplomatic and economic ties with the U.S. improve dramatically over the past seven years.
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry will release the administration’s report on the state of religious freedom around the world in 2012, a requirement under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which sought to enhance the importance of religious freedom in the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy.
The primary tool available to the executive branch under the 1998 legislation is the designation of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) – those whose authorities either commit or are judged to tolerate violations of religious freedom. CPCs are subject to U.S. sanctions or other measures designed to prod governments to improve.
Currently designated CPCs are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
But a handful of other countries deserve to be on the list too, in the view of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent body established under the IRFA, comprising unpaid commissioners appointed by congressional leaders and the administration.
When it released its own yearly report three weeks ago, the USCIRF pressed for Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam to be designated CPCs.
In some of those cases, the recommendation has been disregarded for years.
Pakistan, home to some of the world’s most notorious blasphemy laws, has evaded CPC status despite USCIRF recommendation every year since 2002, as have Turkmenistan since 2000, Egypt since 2011, Nigeria since 2009, and Tajikistan since last year.
The other two, Iraq and Vietnam, were both previous designated CPCs. The Bush administration removed Iraq in 2004, following the fall of Saddam Hussein regime; and Vietnam in 2006, citing improvements as a result of active lobbying of the communist authorities in Hanoi.
Each year since 2008 the USCIRF has recommended that Iraq be returned to the CPC list. In the case of Vietnam, the commission never agreed with its delisting, and has recommended its return every year since, also to no avail.
Last week House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) introduced legislation calling on the administration to relist Vietnam as a CPC, citing authorities’ refusals to grant legal recognition to churches, as well as assaults, harassment, imprisonment and home destructions targeting Christians.
Last year’s State Department report on international religious freedom referred to “continued reports of abuses of religious freedom” in Vietnam and said that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior State Department officials “raised religious freedom concerns with government officials and called for continued improvements in religious freedom.”
Those diplomatic efforts did not appear to have had any effect, however: The report also noted that Hanoi “did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom.”
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report earlier this year examining compliance with the IRFA noted tensions between the USCIRF and State Department as each has sought to do its respective job.
The report prompted USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett to underline in a letter to the GAO that the commission’s “mandate is neither to conduct diplomacy nor balance religious freedom against other U.S. national interests.”
Swett said the USCIRF recognized that its role “sometimes poses a challenge for the State Department” – but also noted that “at times, our findings draw the ire of offending governments that would prefer their shortcomings remain hidden.”
May 16, 2013
President Barack Obama dismissed calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal, and evaded a question asking if White House officials knew of the IRS targeting of conservative political groups.
“I can assure that I certainly did not know anything about the [inspector general] report before the IG report had been leaked through the press,” he told reporters during a Thursday lunchtime press conference held in the White House Rose Garden.
Obama’s evasion will likely spur public suspicions that White House officials knew about, or even supported, the IRS targeting.