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EPIC obtains documents on NSA's "Perfect Citizen" program

The NSA has turned over documents on the controversial "Perfect Citizen" program to EPIC in response to a FOIA request. "Perfect Citizen" is an NSA program that monitors private networks in the United States. The redacted documents obtained from the federal agency by EPIC state that "[t]he prevention of a loss due to a cyber or physical attack [on Sensitive Control Systems, like large-scale utilities], or recovery of operational capability after such an event, is crucial to the continuity of the [Department of Defense] , the [Intelligence Community], and the operation of SIGNIT systems." The NSA claims that Perfect Citizen is merely a research and development program. The documents obtained by EPIC suggest that the program is operational.


Flashback Revealed: Hundreds of words to avoid using online if you don't want the government spying on you

Dangerous Keywords
© AFP/Getty ImagesRevealing: A list of keywords used by government analysts to scour the internet for evidence of threats to the U.S. has been released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Department of Homeland Security has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites and online media for signs of terrorist or other threats against the U.S.

The intriguing the list includes obvious choices such as 'attack', 'Al Qaeda', 'terrorism' and 'dirty bomb' alongside dozens of seemingly innocent words like 'pork', 'cloud', 'team' and 'Mexico'.

Released under a freedom of information request, the information sheds new light on how government analysts are instructed to patrol the internet searching for domestic and external threats.

The words are included in the department's 2011 'Analyst's Desktop Binder' used by workers at their National Operations Center which instructs workers to identify 'media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities'.

Department chiefs were forced to release the manual following a House hearing over documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit which revealed how analysts monitor social networks and media organisations for comments that 'reflect adversely' on the government.

However they insisted the practice was aimed not at policing the internet for disparaging remarks about the government and signs of general dissent, but to provide awareness of any potential threats.

As well as terrorism, analysts are instructed to search for evidence of unfolding natural disasters, public health threats and serious crimes such as mall/school shootings, major drug busts, illegal immigrant busts.

The list has been posted online by the Electronic Privacy Information Center - a privacy watchdog group who filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act before suing to obtain the release of the documents.

In a letter to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence, the centre described the choice of words as 'broad, vague and ambiguous'.

Cowboy Hat

Here are the 23 executive orders on gun safety signed today by the President

© Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders about the administration's new gun law proposals as children who wrote letters to the White House about gun violence, (L-R) Hinna Zeejah, Taejah Goode, Julia Stokes and Grant Fritz, look on.
President Obama has signed 23 executive orders designed to address the problem of gun violence in America. The following are the items addressed:

Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.

Snakes in Suits

Using children to pass gun laws is grotesque and childish

© Image credit: Getty Images via @daylifePresident Barack Obama embraces Grant Fritz and other children who wrote letters to the White House about gun violence after Obama signed a series of executive orders about the administraton's new gun law proposals in the Eisenhower Executive Office building January 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Parents are often asked by their children to solve unsolvable problems. When woken by nightmares, my daughter seeks reassurance that bad dreams won't return when she closes her eyes again. I offer a fresh pillow, inviting her to think that somehow it will foster only happy visions.

If I cajoled them to, my kids could scratch out some tear-jerking pleas for the President to put an end to nightmares, lost stuffed animals, and illnesses of all kinds. Yet that really shouldn't be the impetuous for nation-altering legislation. Grown-ups - including politicians - may have a duty to offer children reassurance after a trauma, but we cannot pretend that we have the power to wipe bad things out of existence.

Using children's pleas to end violence is about the most grotesque rhetorical tool available to politicians. Our natural instincts are to want to shield children from life's pain. Yet fixating on our desperate desire to protect children from harm distracts from the truly important, adult business of assessing what solutions are actually available.

Mr. Potato

Rep. Ron Mendive of Idaho compares abortion to prostitution

There have been various instances this past year of politicians saying confusing things about abortion. Often, we're left in disbelief over the blatant invalidity of their claims. Now we can add to the list a statement by Rep. Ron Mendive of Couer d'Alene, Idaho.

During a legislative breakfast meeting, the Republican lawmaker shocked everyone when he asked the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union if their pro-abortion stance also meant they were supporters of prostitution.

According to the Couer d'Alene Press, Mendive said:
"I think that there's kind of a double standard...with abortion there are two beating hearts, and prostitution, there's just one. If a woman were going to make a choice to be a prostitute, that's her decision as to what to do with her body."


Outrage: Medical marijuana patients sent to federal prison by Obama administration

This month will see a number of patients sentenced, sent to prison despite compliance with state medical marijuana laws

Fallout from the Obama Administration's aggressive federal enforcement in medical marijuana states has reached a fever pitch this month with three people being sentenced, two others due to surrender to federal authorities to serve out sentences of up to five years in prison, and one federal trial in Montana currently scheduled for January 14th. Two of the three people being sentenced in the coming month -- Montana cultivator Chris Williams and Los Angeles-area dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky -- face five and ten years to life, respectively.

"The number of sick patients being locked up by the Obama Administration is unprecedented and deplorable," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy organization. "Aggressive enforcement is an unacceptable means of addressing medical marijuana as a public health issue," continued Hermes. "The Obama Administration is lying to the American people when it says it's not targeting individual patients and these cases are clear evidence of that." Montana patient cultivator Richard Flor died in August while serving out a 5-year prison sentence.


Ex-treasurer of Spain had €22m in Swiss bank

Luis Barcenas
© Emilio Naranjo (Efe)

The beleaguered government of Mariano Rajoy has been embarrassed by revelations that its party's former treasurer had a bank account in Switzerland containing up to €22 million.

Luis Bárcenas held the treasury post in the conservative Partido Popular (PP) from 2008 until 2009, when he resigned because of an investigation into his part in a massive fraud network. He stepped down from the party in 2010.

The inquiry into that case continues and information a Spanish judge has requested from Swiss authorities shows details of an account held under the politician's name which coincides with the time he was managing the PP's finances.

The data shows Mr Bárcenas kept an average of €15 million in the account, which was open between 2005 and 2009. In 2007 it contained just over €22 million.

The PP's deputy leader, María Dolores de Cospedal, hinted yesterday at the concern within the party's leadership. "Of course this will cause outrage, how can it not? I'm outraged by it," she said.

However, she sought to distant the government from Mr Bárcenas by highlighting that he was no longer in the PP.


Justice Department seldom checking references for law-enforcement hires

The Justice Department rarely checks references for potential law-enforcement hires as recommended by official groups that oversee personnel practices, according to a report released Thursday by the agency's inspector general.

The Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board encourage all government agencies to use reference checks whenever selecting new employees, the report said.

Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz found that the Justice Department only requires the verification procedure for new attorney applicants. Even then, not all divisions within the agency follow protocol, the report said.

Only three out of 39 divisions have created written policies that provide clear reference-checking guidance for hiring officials, according to the analysis.

The inspector general noted that some hiring officials "are simply not bothering to check references," concluding that inconsistencies within the department's practices "create risk that components are not uniformly and thoroughly screening applicants."

Snakes in Suits

Whole Foods founder John Mackey calls Obamacare 'fascism'

© Harry Cabluck/APWhole Foods has more than 300 stores and continues to expand.
No doubt, Whole Foods has played a key role in propelling organic foods into the mainstream. The specialty supermarket chain has more than 300 stores and plans to continue expanding. But Mackey is not the crunchy granola liberal one might conjure while perusing aisles of earnestly labeled blue corn chips and gently misted red peppers.

He's a self-styled libertarian: a vegan who sells sustainably raised meat, a man who compares the government's health care overhaul to "fascism" but wants to improve American diets.

And he thinks big businesses have an obligation to change customers' perception that big corporations are "primarily selfish and greedy." (Not that he's opposed to profits. In fact, Whole Foods posted a 49 percent boost in quarterly earnings in November.)

Mackey sat down with Inskeep to discuss his philosophy and the new book he co-authored, Conscious Capitalism.


Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin indicted for corruption

© Credit: Reuters/Enrique De La OsaRay Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans, talks during an interview in Havana October 20, 2009
A federal grand jury on Friday charged former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin with 21 counts of public corruption, including bribery and fraud related to his dealings with city vendors following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Nagin, who served as mayor from 2002-2010, stirred national controversy after the powerful hurricane broke local flood walls and inundated most of the city, killing some 1,500 people and wrecking tens of thousands of homes.