Beltway Insider: Intelligence Program Overhauled; Congress Stalls UI Benefits; Christie Hits Stormy Weather

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President Barack Obama addressed members of the Department of Justice this week, as part of an introduction to the recent changes in the Signal Intelligence program, the use, necessity and major evolution to longstanding gathering methods.

According to Gallup, President Obama’s job approval, over the past week dropped three percentage points to 40% of those polled who approve of his effectiveness as President and those who disapprove of his effectiveness as President rose one percentage points to 51%.

U.S. Intelligence Program Faces Overhaul

President Obama, in his introduction to recent changes in intelligence gathering programs, put forth great effort in explaining the delicate balance of the intelligence community and consequences of failure and the highly embarrassing public revelations of intrusive collection.

“The United States must preserve and continue to develop a robust and technologically advanced signals intelligence capability to protect our security and that of our partners and allies,” President Obama said.

From the beginning of the nation, the United States has engaged in surveillance and intelligence gathering. As society modernized the methods used to gather sensitive and necessary information regarding the movements of our enemies, foreign and domestic, also modernized.

“Our signals intelligence capabilities must also be agile enough to enable us to focus on fleeting opportunities or emerging crises and to address not only the issues of today, but also the issues of tomorrow, which we may not be able to foresee,” the president said in a released statement.

The recent overhaul of the U.S. Signal Intelligence re-introduces five directives that have undergone review from multiple agencies and organizations within the structure of government and private corporations to create a more effective and efficient and less intrusive method of operation.

In reviewing the current system, stakeholder organizations, including Congress, technology companies, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and other relevant groups, organizations and companies, met with the president in strategy sessions and think tanks to make recommendations.

The five directives which includes a “new presidential policy for our [the United States] signals intelligence activities, at home and abroad and lays out new principles that govern how we [the United States] conduct signals intelligence collection, and strengthen how we provide executive branch oversight of our signals intelligence activities.”

Some of these programs may be new to the public, the majority have been in longtime use as privacy advocates and other watchdog groups, attempting to ensure the government maintains the boundaries of need and necessity without violating the privacies of American citizens.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, National Security Letters, Consumer Privacy Codes of Conduct and a Commitment to an Open Internet have all undergone central changes or revisions.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which has received much attention due to the revelations from Edward Snowden on bulk gathering of numerical data, will, as it is known, end.

Meta-data mining, or the bulk gathering of phone numbers, is ceasing as the president transitions the program indicating “we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of three.”

The oversight committees which also reviewed the U.S. Signal Intelligence gathering procedures found no direct violations to methods and made recommendations that should encourage greater public awareness and freedom of information.

President Obama also announced the changes in National Security Letters used by the FBI when investigating threats and in methods designed especially to increase confidence overseas.

Maintaining a freedom of discrimination policy the president stated emphatically the United States does not investigate simply based on any legally outlawed discrimination. He also added the United States doesn’t investigate if it will allow them to cheat or gain unfair advantage in any area.

The President did state, “In terms of our bulk collection, we will only use data to meet specific security requirements: counter-intelligence; counter-terrorism; counter-proliferation; cyber-security; force protection for our troops and allies; and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.”

Congress Stalls UI Benefits

President Obama has called on members of Congress to expedite the passage of the Reed-Heller bill, which will retroactively restore Unemployment Insurance benefits for over 1.3million Americans whose financial lifeline was cut off at the end of December 2013.

The Reed-Heller bill, authored by Senators Jack Reed, (D-RI) and Dean Heller, (R-NV), much to the dismay of the White House, has failed to move any closer to a resolution over the extension of emergency Unemployment Insurance benefits which lapsed over the Christmas holiday.

“What the Senate should do and then the House should do is pass an extension of benefits right away.  There is an existing bill, has made some progress in the Senate that would do that immediately without offsets for just a short duration, three months, in the manner that was done under President George W. Bush five times.  And we certainly support that.  We also have said that we would entertain discussions with Congress about how to move forward for a longer-term extension,” said Jay Carney White House Press Secretary.

Legislators, over the past two weeks, have debated the bill, called for cloture, supported the president, talked to the media, listened to constituents, and failed to move forward on any legislation that would alleviate the financial duress faced by these unemployed Americans.

 “The Reed-Heller bill, which extends benefits through March 31, has a $6.5 billion price tag and sets up another potential showdown over the benefits that could coincide with a congressional throw-down over the debt limit later this year. That might not be a bad omen, from the point of view of those depending on the benefits, because lawmakers have yoked unemployment insurance and the debt ceiling together before. Congress paired the last extension—the one that expired in December—with the fiscal-cliff legislation that passed in early 2013,” reported the National Journal.

 “We simply want the Senate and then the House to act,” Carney said.  

Christie in Stormy Water Over Super Storm Sandy Funds

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the early Republican 2016 Presidential frontrunner, is facing his second scandal in as many weeks, as the revelations of a mafia style squeeze over Super Storm Sandy funds surface.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer, of Hoboken, New Jersey, has recently revealed allegations which included the possibility of extortion by the governor over Super Storm Sandy relief funds of which he controlled.

Zimmer alleges she had a conversation with New Jersey’s Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, which contained a direct statement from the governor, indicting how other funds were available.

Explaining on the Sunday Politico programs her then conversation with the Guadagno, included what Zimmer described as a direct message from the governor who explicitly implied that she held the cards and additional relief funds were directly tied to her approval of a development project of which Christie had ties.

Zimmer, who provided undated journal entries to corroborate her allegations, detailed her meeting, impressions and disappointments with the governor.

She also indicated she is aware she should have come forward earlier but did not as it would have been worse for Hoboken and probably assassinated her political career.

The Rockefeller development project, a three block forty story office complex, located in Hudson County, New Jersey, is an extension of Wall Street and the corporate kingdom of lower Manhattan. 

The September 11, 2001terrorist attacks brought a resurgence to the undeveloped coastline opposite New York City. Since that time, many corporations have moved some portion of their headquarters to the developer’s gold coast.

As the investigation into the governors involvement in the retaliatory George Washington Bridge lane closures continues the scope has now widened to include the possibility of withholding Super Storm Sandy relief funds in exchange for providing approvals on the Rockefeller development project.

It is not the first time, and clearly won’t be the last, that strong arm tactics are used to facilitate approval of real estate deals in the Garden State

A heinous and more offensive, yet common, tactic, conspiring to deep six violent crime statistics, is also used to change the image of a particular area to assist in receiving federal funding for development deals.

The governor has unequivocally denied involvement in either scandal.

Taliban Kabul Attack Kills 21

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul, Afghanistan this week, which killed 21 including three American citizens.

President Obama issued this statement, “The United States joins the international community in condemning the Taliban's attack on a restaurant in Kabul, Afghanistan, which has killed 21 civilians and injured others.  We send condolences to all the victims of the attack and their families, and pray for a speedy recovery for those injured.”


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