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Last weekend I returned to my alma mater for homecoming. (GO BADGERS!) Leaving the Madison, Wisconsin Airport on Sunday, my husband and I were treated to the Transportation Security Agency's (TSA) Tony Award-worthy performance in "feel safe" security theater.

First, TSA had reserved one of the two security checkpoints for TSA Pre-Checked passengers only. (Pre-Check is the program where you give TSA more of your private information - like your fingerprints - and you get to keep your shoes on.) At a small regional airport in a college town on homecoming weekend, eliminating a checkpoint created quite a mess at the remaining checkpoint, with dozens of people missing flights. The mess was messier because the remaining checkpoint had one naked body scanner and one metal detector, but TSA didn't bother letting people go through the metal detector until the airlines started calling 20-some names of passengers who were late to board.

But what really scared TSA: It was my first weekend away from our new baby, and I had with me a cooler full of pumped breast milk.

After incidents like the one where my colleague and Kossack Jesselyn Radack was asked to taste her breast milk (!!!!), TSA actually developed a policy, which says that breast milk is medically necessary and therefore exempt from the "no liquids" rule.

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) still can't identify an obvious breast pump used by women who are breastfeeding. According Hawaiian media, a mom was asked to prove her breast pump was real at the Lihue Airport.

Agents told her she couldn't take the pump on the plane because the bottles inside were empty. Interestingly, the same thing happened to Kossack Jesselyn Radack 8 years ago for the opposite reason: the bottles were full.

This is not just a one-off.  This is what occurs with measures intended to make people feel secure while doing nothing to actually improve security.

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Author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and whistleblower Peter Van Buren discussed the State Department's retaliatory actions on NPR Sunday. From the NPR story:

The halls of the State Department are haunted, not by actual ghosts, but by people who might as well be ghosts. They're called hallwalkers, people who blew the whistle, people who angered someone powerful, people who for one reason or another can't be fired.

But they can be stripped of their security clearances, their desks and their duties and left to walk aimlessly up and down the halls of that massive building. Sometimes they're required to show up at the building to get paid. Sometimes they're allowed to telecommute from home.

The State Department's anti-free speech retaliation included stripping Van Buren of his security clearance, a forced transfer to a telework position after weeks of paid administrative leave, and banning him from entering State Department facilities. Van Buren explained:  
There are procedures in the State Department to fire someone or to discipline someone. There are rules that the State Department claims are broken. But rather than pursue those avenues, which would have allowed me to defend myself, the State Department instead followed a different path where they used bureaucratic tools, unofficial ways of doing business that pushed me out of the village, sent me into the wilderness.
Van Buren's book exposed massive reconstruction fraud in Iraq, such as handing out sheep and bees to Iraqi widows and a "Potemkin chick factory:"
Remembering back to the early days in Russia where the money was squandered and so they built a stage set to impress the empress. With future visitors, we evolved a sliding scale of chickens, depending on the relative importance.

If you were a big-shot reporter from a television network, you'd see 50 or 60 chickens slaughtered for your pleasure. If you were a print journalist from a known newspaper, 10 or 20. With respect from NPR, maybe four or five chickens.

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On Monday, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake and my Government Accountability Project colleague and Justice Department whistleblower Jesselyn Radack will receive the Sam Adams Award from Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence. Former CIA analyst and activist Ray McGovern explained the award:

Our country's need for courageous whistleblowers is now. That is mostly why Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) publicly honors people who have spoken truth, and suffered the consequences, as Sam Adams, my former analyst colleague at CIA, did on Vietnam.

Unfortunately, as I wrote yesterday, despite recognition from the whistleblowing community (Drake also received the renown Ridenhour Truth Telling Prize in April) and the Justice Department's glaring defeat in the Drake case, the government is refusing to make amends with Drake and his fellow whistleblowers. The Baltimore Sun ran a front-page top-of-the-fold article reporting that Drake and four other whistleblowers filed a lawsuit seeking to recoup property that the government seized in retaliatory raids back in 2007. Drake said the request is simple:

We'd like our stuff back.

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Apparently the government has learned nothing from the spectacular collapse of the ill-fated criminal prosecution of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. Drake was charged with 10 felony counts, all of which the government abandoned days before trial when the prosecution's case fell apart in the face of adverse court rulings and overwhelmingly negative media coverage (such as in The New Yorker and 60 Minutes). Drake pleaded to a minor misdemeanor, and, at sentencing, a federal judge lambasted the prosecution, calling delays in the case "unconscionable" and saying that the government put Drake through "four years of hell."  

Despite the Justice Department's glaring defeat in the Drake case, the government is refusing to make amends with the whistleblowers it so egregiously mistreated. A front-page top-of-the-fold Baltimore Sun story reports that Drake and four other whistleblowers filed a lawsuit seeking to recoup property that the government seized in retaliatory raids back in 2007. Drake said the request is simple:

We'd like our stuff back.

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Jane Mayer's recent New Yorker piece on the criminal prosecution of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake reveals a sliver of the intelligence industrial complex costing Americans their money and their freedom.

Drake blew the whistle on the NSA wasting billions and sacrificing Americans' privacy on what The New Yorker describes as a "$1.2 billion flop." The program, Trailblazer, though intended to collect and analyze massive amounts of data, was merely a funding vehicle with "nothing to show for [itself] other than mounting bills."  NSA management rebuffed and retaliated against Drake and other public servants who pointed to a cheaper, ready-to-deploy program that contained privacy protections for Americans.

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Today's Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration is seeking further expansion of the FBI's power to issue National Security Letters (NSLs) and spinning the expansion as a "technical fix."

The administration wants to add just four words -- "electronic communication transactional records" -- to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge's approval. . . . But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters.

The Obama administration's "look forward" mentality apparently also means ignoring the FBI's dismal track record when it comes to NSLs.  

Having done practically nothing to rein in post-9/11 surveillance powers and plenty to retain them (such as the administration's support for renewing the PATRIOT Act without civil liberties safeguards, including NSL reform), the White House now seeks to give the FBI more power to invade privacy in the very arena where the FBI has abused power in the past.

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange clarified some things in Jesselyn Radack's Daily Kos diary today* about how Wikileaks may be the only option left for employees who see waste, fraud, abuse or illegality in the national security realm. It is encouraging to learn that Wikileaks is safer than many of us thought. Thank you Mr. Assange.

*The original diary has been deleted, but was cross-posted and is available on the Government Accountability Project's blog along with Mr. Assange's full comment.

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All accountability hawks have been fuming over David Margolis's memo, which effectively immunizes torture memo authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee from professional discipline despite a Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report finding that they committed professional misconduct.  Margolis's softening of OPR's report means no bar referrals for now tenured law professor Yoo and federal judge Bybee.

As the only attorney to be referred to a bar counsel for advice given in a terrorism case, Ms. Radack has a right to be particularly frustrated by the decision to let Yoo and Bybee off the hook.  And, by the way, Ms. Radack's legally sound advice in the "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh case was to properly afford the suspect his rights.  

Ms. Radack, a legal ethics expert, courageously took Margolis and company to task in Harpers Magazine yesterday.

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The latest press reports say the long-delayed Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report on the investigation into the advice of "torture lawyers" John Yoo and Jay Bybee will be released this week and has been "revised" to remove language triggering bar discipline. Read: after the lawyers under investigation were allowed respond to the report, OPR let them off the hook.

This is a dreadful step backwards in holding responsible those who orchestrated the abusive policies of the last nine years.  

Compare OPR's refusal to refer Yoo and Bybee to the bar with OPR's retaliatory bar referral of whistleblower and DOJ ethics advisor in the case of "American Taliban," John Walker Lindh, Jesselyn Radack.  Ms. Radack blew the whistle when the legally sound advice she gave in the Lindh case mysteriously "disappeared" from the file in violation of a federal court order.  One such OPR bar referral is, more than 5 years later, still hanging over Ms. Radack’s head.

OPR's priorities are disastrously misplaced.

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FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni says that

Those who say the F.B.I. should not collect information on a person or group unless there is a specific reason to suspect that the target is up to no good seriously miss the mark...The F.B.I. has been told that we need to determine who poses a threat to the national security - not simply to investigate persons who have come onto our radar screen.

It sounds like the FBI has interpreted their new Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide to mean they can investigate anyone they feel like.  In that case we can bid goodbye our constitutional rights to privacy, free speech, free assembly, and freedom from racial discrimination.

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